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South Summit of World Leaders in Search of a Venue

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 8 2011 (IPS) - The ongoing political turmoil in Libya has derailed plans for a major summit meeting of developing nations scheduled to take place in Tripoli in October.

Billed as the third South Summit, the meeting was to be attended by world leaders from the 131 developing countries that comprise the Group of 77 (G77), the largest single coalition at the United Nations.

The importance of the summit has been underlined by the renewed financial turmoil in Portugal, Greece and Ireland, and an impending crisis in Spain and Italy – and their impact on the world’s developing economies.

The summit in Libya was expected to warn about the possible negative fallout on the global South and call for collective protective measures by developing countries to avert an impending economic disaster.

In a letter to the G77 last year, Libya not only offered to host the summit but also pledged to “deploy all efforts, and mobilize all the necessary means and resources” to ensure the success of the event.

The summit was also meant to bolster the political leadership of Col. Muammar Gaddafi – now in hiding and pursued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges – who chaired the 54- member African Union back in 2009.

With the country sharply divided between battling government forces and rebel groups since last February, Libya has refused to confirm whether it still plans to go ahead with the summit or abandon it.

“We don’t think it will be logistically possible to hold the summit in Libya – and certainly not under the military umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which has already devastated the country,” a G77 delegate told IPS.

As a result of the political uncertainty in Libya, he said, the G77 is looking for a new venue. But there have been no volunteers so far.

The first South Summit was held in the Cuban capital of Havana in April 2000 and the second in the Qatari capital of Doha in June 2005. As part of a geographical rotation among different regions, the third South Summit was expected to take place in Africa in 2010.

The summit, which takes place every five years, did not find a host in 2010, with the Libyans offering a venue only in 2011.

The South Summits are the only talk fests open exclusively to world leaders from developing nations.

At the second South Summit, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar pledged 20 million dollars in seed money to the South Fund for Development established at that meeting.

“I hope countries in the North and South would contribute to it,” he told delegates, even as Qatar’s announcement was quickly followed by instant pledges of two million dollars each by China and India, pushing the total to 24 million dollars.

The emir of Qatar also announced his commitment to meet the internationally-agreed benchmark of 0.7 percent of the country’s gross national income (GNI) as development aid, of which about 15 percent will be to least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world’s poor.

Qatar’s commitment was all the more significant because the 0.7 percent target set by the U.N. General Assembly in the 1960s was applicable only to the world’s 22 richest nations in the industrial North.

As a developing country, Qatar does not fall into the classification of a donor nation.

The summit also adopted a 23-page Doha Plan of Action and a 14-page Doha Declaration which spelled out North-South relations, South-South cooperation, and the shortcomings and economic inequities inherent in the international economic system which need to be rectified.

Writing about the first South Summit, Martin Khor, formerly of the Third World Network, said the Programme of Action (POA) adopted in Havana sought to foster increased cooperation among the countries of the South and for follow-up, including an institutional follow-up.

The summit called for strengthening current modalities and mechanisms for South-South cooperation, including by regional economic groupings.

The POA said that South-South cooperation is a crucially important tool for strengthening economic independence.

However, progress over the years has not been commensurate with the commitments in the various declarations and programmes of action. The lack of effective follow-up has lessened the impact and effectiveness of such cooperation in recent years.

“The tendency for decisions taken in multilateral fora at the global levels to impact directly on the developing countries makes it all the more necessary for our countries to foster increased cooperation and coordination of effort,” the summit declared.

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