Third World observers say they'll pay, but can't affect debate GROUP OF SEVEN SUMMIT

July 07, 1992|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Contributing Writer

MUNICH, Germany -- Martin Khor has found that there is little place for a Malaysian journalist when the West's top leaders get TC together for their annual summit.

Unlike his Western counterparts, Mr. Khor cannot watch the seven heads of state hobnob over breakfast or read their plans for the world economy. Although the summit will affect his home country's economy, he and other journalists from poor countries are excluded because the summit organizers give the coveted press passes for the leaders' meetings only to Westerners.

In many ways, Mr. Khor's outsider position symbolizes how most of the world population is treated at this week's Group of Seven economic summit. Increasingly bound to the big seven countries through trade and debt, they have no say when these countries make decisions.

"We all know that we need more partnership between North and South, but at these summits it is not forthcoming," said Mr. Khor, who writes for a monthly magazine called Third World Economics.

One chief concern is debt relief, an issue that is on the G-7 agenda, but which deals only with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the current wave of interest in the former Communist bloc in Europe, debt relief or aid for the poorer countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia has become a marginal issue at the summit.

"Nobody remembers us any more. We are forgotten," said Joao Luiz Pinaud, a law professor at Sao Paulo University in Brazil and delegate to The Other Economic Summit, a Third World economic conference that has shadowed the G-7 meetings for the past eight years.

Mr. Pinaud and other skeptics of this week's meeting often bitterly complain that while most people in the North feel that the debt crisis is over, the only group out of risk is the Western banks.

Since 1982, when the issue first hit the international agenda, Third World debt has increased from $900 billion to $1.5 trillion. At the same time, the southern nations have made debt payments of $1.500 trillion, half of which went to interest.

"This is a transfer of wealth from south to north. The North has done nothing for us. We have given them a Marshall Plan," Mr. Pinaud said, referring to the U.S.-sponsored reconstruction program for Europe after World War II.

The one G-7 issue that might help the southern nations -- trade liberalization -- has become so politicized that few think that the seven leaders will make any breakthrough this week. None seems able to overcome the local self-interest groups that are holding up a deal on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which one Canadian economic study estimates would bring an extra $6 billion a year to developing nations.

In contrast to earlier years, not all the criticism on the perimeter of the G-7 conference was aimed at the West. Edith Mutale, a delegate to the shadow summit from the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, said African nations cannot separate development from democracy.

"Many of our countries are run by an elite who exploit the people. Until democracy comes, there will be no development," Mrs. Mutale said.

But while officials scurry to find aid for Russia and other ex-Communist countries, the West has done little to help the change toward democracy in the developing world, Mrs. Mutale said. Although Zimbabwe, for example, ended one-party rule last year, the international lending organizations, which are dominated by the big seven Western industrial countries, continue to impose difficult loan repayment conditions. For many of Mrs. Mutale's compatriots, democracy is synonymous with hardship.

Such insensitivity is one reason why few people in Malaysia will follow the summit with much interest, Mr. Khor said. Decisions on interest rates or exchange rates will affect Malaysia's debt repayment and export strategies, but his country will have no influence on them.

And even if the Third World's journalists were allowed in to view the seven leaders consult, few would attend. The expense of sending a correspondent to Germany for a few days guarantees that the event remain almost the exclusive territory of rich Westerners.

"Look around here," Mr. Khor said at a news conference yesterday. "Do you see anyone from the Third World? How could they presume to come to such a gathering?"

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