Address at the Commonwealth Business Forum, Johannesburg – 1999/11/09

Johannesburg 9 November 1999

Chairperson of the Forum, the Rt Hon the Earl Cairns,
Vice Chairperson, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa,
Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku,
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
Business leaders of the Commonwealth and other countries of the world,
Ministers, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honoured to join others in welcoming you to this second meeting of the Commonwealth Business Forum as well as to our country. I trust that you will have successful deliberations. As South Africans we also hope that those of our guests who come from ou tside our country will have an enjoyable stay with us.

As you know, the inaugural meeting of the Forum took place in the United Kingdom, one of the developed countries of the North. We meet today in South Africa, one of the developing countries of the South.

I believe that this setting, whatever the circumstances of our immediate surroundings, poses the challenge to all of us to reflect deeply on what might be done to expedite the process of development among the countries of the South, including those that ar e in the Commonwealth.

Given the theme of the Forum, it must surely be correct for us to assume that you will reflect in particular on the urgent question of what might be done to bridge the development gap that divides the North from the South, for the benefit of the peoples bo th of the North and of the South.

The ‘Edinburgh Economic Declaration on the Promotion of Shared Prosperity’ adopted by the Commonwealth two years ago, provides us with the correct starting point as we further engage these challenges.

With your permission, let me restate part of what is contained in that Declaration. “We believe that world peace, security and social stability cannot be achieved in conditions of deep poverty and growing inequality”.

The Declaration further urges member states to ensure that:

  • “the world economy is geared towards promoting universal growth and prosperity for all;
  • “there must be effective participation by all countries in economic decision-making in key international fora;
  • “the removal of obstacles that prevent developing countries playing their full part in shaping the evolution of the global economy; and (that)
  • “international regimes affecting economic relations among nations should provide symmetrical benefits for all.”

We believe that the challenges we face could not have been more correctly stated than in these passages from the Edinburgh Declaration. The question that remains to be answered is what it to be done to ensure that these positions inform the entire interna tional community as it strives to construct a more equitable world economic system.

Shortly, the trade ministers from all over the world will converge at Seattle, in the United States, to launch yet another round of WTO negotiations that will help to shape the international trade regime for the foreseeable future.

We believe that it is critically important that we all approach these negotiations with a particular focus on finding ways that will lead to all of us effectively halting the marginalisation of the developing world.

For one thing therefore, responding to the question – what is to be done to give effect to the principles and objectives contained in the Edinburgh Declaration – we would hope that members of the Commonwealth will participate in the forthcoming WTO negotia tions in a manner that pursues the achievement of these objectives.

We are pleased that the Commonwealth Business Council has made its own submission to CHOGM on this critical matter.

Indeed we agree with your view that affirms the role of the WTO as an organisation that should be solely concerned with fair and efficient conduct and regulation of international trade.

Accordingly, we also agree that it should not become an instrument for bringing extra-territorial policy changes outside the realm of the WTO or, more important, an institution for introducing new and discriminatory barriers to trade.

We must also make the point that the Edinburgh principles are also particularly relevant to the continuing ACP-EU negotiations. It surely would not be correct to exclude from the principles guiding these negotiations the central concept of a system of coop eration directed at the development of those who are under-developed.

We are keenly aware of the difficulty of bridging the gap between stated principles and actual implementation, ourselves having just concluded a major part of the bilateral agreement between ourselves and the EU.

And yet we are convinced, Chairperson, that it cannot be beyond our human capabilities to find practical ways in fact to build a world economy that results in an end to poverty and the reduction of the disparity between the rich and the poor.

Let me cite two instances reported in the current Human Development Report of the UNDP, further to highlight the challenges of which we are all aware.

This Report states that:

” The assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined Gross National Product of all least developed countries and their 600 million people.” (p.3).

Later, this Report says:

” Today, global inequalities in income and living standards have reached grotesque proportions. The gap in per capita income between the countries with the richest fifth of the world’s people and those with the poorest fifth widened from 30 to 1 in 1960, to 74 to 1 in 1995.” (pp 104-5).

Reflecting on the truly grotesque levels of poverty within the so-called global village, the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn and the Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, Amartya Sen say that:

” Three billion people live on less than $2 a day, 1.3 billion do not have clean water, 130 million children do not go to school, and 40 000 children die every day because of hunger-related diseases.” (International Herald Tribune: May 5, 1999. )

We are very pleased and encouraged by the numbers and the high standing of the participants at this meeting of the Business Forum.

The topics on our agenda should enable us to find practical responses to the task we all face of ending the poverty levels indicated by the figures we have just cited and to find the road that will lead to sustained and sustainable growth and development t hroughout the world.

I say this, in particular, because both the Commonwealth Business Forum and the Commonwealth Heads of Government are and will be meeting in Africa, the poorest of the continents.

As political leaders and as governments, we too must do our work.

We have to ensure that we banish tyranny, war and corruption from our countries and this Continent. We have to create conditions, policies and programmes conducive to investment, growth and job creation. We have to discharge our responsibilities to our pe oples with regard to such matters as education, health and the fight against such diseases as HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the provision of clean water, environmental protection and so on.

But we also want to work in partnership with the business sector to address all these challenges, including larger inflows of foreign direct investment certainly into the African Continent.

We also want to work with both the public and private sectors of the developed countries of the North, as we grapple with such critical issues as our international debt burden, a more equitable global trading system, the attraction of larger volumes of lon g-term capital to the countries of the South and increasing the flows and effectiveness of development assistance.

We are convinced that the possibility exists for us to make progress on all these issues, however daunting the challenge.

Our practical actions will answer the question whether we have the will, the courage and the sense of human solidarity in fact to end the human tragedy to which billions are condemned.

Last year, President Clinton spoke at the New York Council on Foreign Relations and warned:

” If citizens tire of waiting for democracy and free markets to deliver a better life for them, there is a real risk that democracy and free markets, instead of continuing to thrive together, will begin to shrivel together.”

/

When he addressed the Board of Governors of the World Bank less than two months ago, the President, James Wolfensohn spoke of a process of interaction that had taken place between the Bank and its clients, the poor of the world.

He went on to report that an old woman in Africa said:

” A better life for me is to be healthy, peaceful, and to live in love without hunger.”

For her part, a mother in South Asia said:

” When my child asks for something to eat, I say the rice is cooking until he falls asleep from hunger – for there is no rice.”

I am certain that we who are at this important meeting have not closed our ears and our minds to these heartrending cries for help.

I am certain that your deliberations will help to move us further forward towards the achievement of the goal of a better life for all.

I thank you for your attention and wish you success in your work.

 

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