As Guyana prepares to chair the meeting of the Group of 77 at the UN’s Virtual session on October 29-30 2020, it is clear from a statement by Hon Hugh Todd, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and international Business that the forum will provide the opportunity for discourse on some of the most important global issues, the SDGs, Climate Change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the restructuring of Financing for Development .
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the Virtual Pivot Event coordinated by the IDB, October 16, aptly frames the aspirational goal for Guyana’s role at the G77: “Time to Pivot the Caribbean as a Global leader.” (For those who may not have seen it, this brilliant YouTube presentation is attached at the end of the blog).
The context for Guyana’s agenda at the G77 has also been established at the 75th Anniversary of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) September 22-29, 2020 and the IMF-World Bank annual meetings October 12-18, 2020. First is the call for a Marshall Plan for the most affected COVID-19 developing countries by Jamaican Prime Minster Andrew Holness, joint chair with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the UNGA Conference “The Future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment – confronting COVID-19 —through effective multilateral action ( September 22-29, 2020). This position was generally endorsed at both the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings following the UNGA and the UN ECLAC Meetings which preceded it. The case was made for Latin American and Caribbean economies, particular the latter with high dependence on tourism for international support to prioritize critical spending for health, transfers to the poor to ensure maximum efficiency. These require international grants, concessional financing, and debt relief in some cases. Where debt is unsustainable, there has been strong advocacy for forgiveness rather than restructuring to free up finances to deal with the crisis.
GOFAD’s Reflection on the Issues from its blog on January 10, 2020
The decade of 2020 began with St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana headlining the Caribbean at the helm of global leadership at the United Nations. On January 2, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) signified the magnitude of its international status, the smallest country ever to sit on the Security Council, the highest UN organization. It is one of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, which also comprises 5 permanent members. At the UWI Vice Chancellor’s Forum on November 7, 2019, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves aptly described this moment as “St. Vincent and the Grenadines representing the World but with geographic interests of the Caribbean civilization". It is important to note that St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues its year as Chair of the Caribbean ACP Forum (CARIFORUM) and assumed the Chair of CARICOM in July, 2020.
At the same time, Guyana succeeded Palestine as Chair of the Group of Group of 77 (G-77). A formal handover on January 15, was significant. G-77 is the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations. It provides the means for advancing South-South Cooperation and for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations system.
For The Record
This is not the first time that Caribbean countries have held prestigious positions in the UN system. In 1993, H. E. Mr. Samuel R. Insanally, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United Nations, had the distinction of being the first CARICOM representative to be elected to the Presidency of the General Assembly. At the 58th General Assembly, in 2003, Ambassador Julian Hunte of St Lucia assumed the Presidency. Previous CARCOM non-permanent members of the Security Council include Guyana (1976 and 1983); Jamaica (1980 and 2000); and Trinidad and Tobago (1986). In the case of Chairs of G-77 the record shows: Jamaica 1977 and 2005; Guyana 1999 and Antigua and Barbuda 2008 .
What is at Stake?
At the start of the new Decade of 2020, and prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the international arena was consumed by mandates to achieve the comprehensive targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Within this framework for action, the most prominent for both the Security Council and the G77 are peace and security, climate change, equality and inclusiveness and financing for development. In recent years, the Security Council has found the Syrian conflict particularly difficult to manage, with Russia using its veto powers to bloc resolutions aimed at making the Assad regime accountable for atrocities documented by UN sources. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will no doubt be involved in the debates on (a) institutional change resulting from the outsized power of veto wielding member states; (b) the issue of aspirants to permanent status including Brazil, Germany and India; (c) the peace keeping mandates including the scope, cost and abuses of peacekeepers; and (d) the case of protection of civilians and migrants, especially grave violations against children in conflict situations. It is reasonable to assume that the Caribbean interests in the Security Council will, in addition, revolve around achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; the priorities of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), upholding international humanitarian law, UN reform, the Convention on land degradation and comprehensive agreement on biodiversity and deforestation.
Within the G-77, Guyana as Chair may have greater leverage than SVG as a non-permanent member of the Security council. This has more to do with the structure of the G-77 and the more flexible scope of its programme than with the competence of the diplomats involved. The First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the Charter of Algiers, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades. Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues. Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N. system. The growing membership to 135 members is proof of its enduring strength. Based on a public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center among G-77 Leaders 2018-2019, the emerging priorities include global financial stability, global economic stability, climate change, energy and the environment, technological innovation and cybersecurity, trade and investment and women empowerment. In addition, the sectoral meetings of G-77 in areas such as food and agriculture, energy, trade and finance, science and technology, industrialization and sustainable development, allows for increased participation by and in a variety of member states. The overarching issue of China and the global South will offer special challenges which is highlighted in a lecture in the GOFAD Resource page by Prof Heine Jorge, China and the Global South: From Debt Diplomacy to Dependency
Grasping Opportunities to enhance Profile and Influence Pivoting to Caribbean to Global Leadership
On the basis of lessons learned, success arising from leadership positions for the Caribbean depends on a number of factors. Among them: the international environment, whether stable or volatile; cooperation among developed and developing country partners; technical and negotiating capability required to broker patterns of conflict and conflict management; financial sustainability to support administration and diplomacy and the backing of CARICOM Member states.
There are other success factors that must be considered to enhance the roles of SVG and Guyana in the leadership structures of the UN. Among them are adherence to a coordinated regional foreign policy, one of the pillars of CARICOM; recognition that the purpose of foreign policy is to utilize sovereignty to engage in multilateral/bilateral arrangements; sustaining and promoting the Caribbean as a zone of peace; standing firm on the AOSIS agenda for Climate action and building coalitions of the willing. COVID 19 has dramatized the essence of these factors around which to pivot
See Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley: "Time To Pivot: The Caribbean As A Global Leader" https://youtu.be/Dxb6tH4slqI
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.