of North South Roundtable, 1978-1997
North South Roundtable was founded in 1978 as an initiative
of Barbara Ward, under the auspices of the Society for International
Development. The original purpose of the North South Roundtable
was to bridge a gap in the North South dialogue process by bringing
together key policy makers, academics and research analysts
in their personal capacities in an independent intellectual
forum where they could discuss global issues free of the constraints
and formalities of the official for a and where they could forge
com men approaches to major world issues, particularly those
affecting North South relations.
For the last two decades(1978-97), North South Roundtable has
played a major role in global discussions in its capacity as:
a forum for clarification of global development issues;
a sounding board for new policy initiatives in the mutual interest
of the North and the South;
a private channel for unencumbered exploration of possibilities
for consensus by key policy makers;
a contributor to and monitor of North South negotiations underway
in official fora;
a public educator on global development issues through direct
briefings and through the dissemination of Roundtable publications.
last two decades, North South Roundtable has held over 10 Roundtable
sessions and has published 12 books, 8 Roundtable Papers and 25
Roundtable Reports (see box). It will be no exaggeration to say
that the activities of the Roundtable have engaged the thinking
and energies of the most prominent intellectuals and policy makers
in the world on issues of development and North-South cooperation.
of North South Roundtable, 1978-1997
Special sessions: Belmont (1979), Sussex (1980), Cancun (1981)
Full NSRT sessions: Rome (1978), Colombo (1979), Ottawa (1980),
Baltimore (1981), Oiso (1982), Rome (1985), New Delhi (1988),
Amsterdam (1991), Mexico (1994)
Energy Roundtable: Castel Gandolfo (1981), Energy Dialogue
Missions to 12 developing countries during 1981-84.
Food' Roundtable: Five Roundtable meetings held in Washington
D C., New York and Rome during. 1981-85.
Roundtable on Africa: Khartoum (1986), Nairobi (1986), Bommersvick
(1986), Juliasdale (1998), Ottawa (1991), Johannesburg (1995).
on Money and Finance: Istanbul (1983), Santiago (1984), Vienna
(1984), New York (1986).
Roundtable on Human Development: Istanbul (1985), Salzberg
(1986), Budapest (1987), Amman (1988).
on Informatics Revolution The Hague (1986), Tokyo (1987).
Trade Roundtable: Geneva (1987), London (1987), Geneva (1987).
Roundtable on UN Reform: Uppsala (1989), Tarrytown (1991),Bretton
on Economics of Peace: San Jose (1990).
on Migration Evian-les Bans (1991).
It is always difficult to assess the full impact of an intellectual
movement. To disseminate information, to clarify issues, to articulate
policy choices these are the prime goals of an organization which
is part public educator, part individual debating forum and part
think tank. The North South Roundtable tried to play its role
as an unofficial bridge between the leading thinkers and policy
makers of the world by providing an intellectual forum where,
irrespective of the fluctuations in the fortunes of the official
North South dialogue, development issues could still be discussed
in a thoroughly professional, disciplined and yet open fashion.
The North South Roundtable generally chose its topics for discussion
by reviewing carefully the main development issues agitating the
minds of national and international policy makers. It then provided
a forum for courageous and independent thinking on many sensitive
issues on the global agenda. many of the NSRT ideas, which originally
appeared to be rather unconventional, have become a part of the
conventional wisdom by now. For instance:
When there was a general hysteria in the mid 1970s that the "energy
crisis" had been caused by the manipulations of the OPEC
cartel, the energy roundtables of NSRT had the courage to point
out that the rise in energy prices was largely the natural result
of long-term forces of demand and supply and that the world should
get used to seeing the energy price fluctuate in future in response
to these economic forces.
• When there was a famine in several African
countries in the 1980s, and global pre-occupation was with the
supply of emergency food assistance, the NSRT roundtables on
food attempted to attract the attention of the policy makers
towards a longer-term reordering of domestic development priorities
in Africa, from cash crops to food crops, and suggested that
no viable solution could be found without accelerated food production
within Africa. This is conventional wisdom by now, though there
were powerful institutional voices during the 1980s that Africa
must continue to focus on the production of export crops.
• When a serious debt problem hit the
developing world in the 1980s and when the World Bank/IMP and
other financial institutions insisted on treating it on a case-by-case
basis, the NSRT roundtables on money and finance kept reminding
the world that it was a generalized problem and must be dealt
with on a global basis. This view is finally accepted now.
• When the world community was still fascinated
with economic growth models and when the human costs of structural
adjustment were being ignored by the international financial
institutions during the 1980s, the NSRT organised four major
roundtables on human development, arguing that people must be
placed at the centre of development, that there is no automatic
link between economic growth and human development, and that
financial budgets can be balanced without unbalancing human
lives. The heresies of that time have become an integral part
of development thinking by now.
• When the Uruguay Round of Multilateral
Trade Negotiations was dominating the global scene in the 1980s
and when the developing countries were still reluctant to include
issues of trade in services and intellectual property within
these talks, the NSRT roundtables on trade took the courageous
position that a freer world trade order, including trade in
services, was in the long term interest of the poor nations
and these trade roundtables played a key role in forging a consensus
among influential policy makers in trade negotiations.
• Before there was a wide-spread recognition
of the increasing marginalisation of the African continent and
before the current concern emerged about the slow disintegration
of several African countries, the NSRT organized several roundtables
on Africa which focused global attention on the neglected domestic
and international development effort in Africa and offered many
concrete proposals for accelerating its economic and human progress.
More recently, when the global community was wrestling with
new issues of global governance, the NSRT organized several
roundtables on the restructuring of the UN system, including
the Bretton Woods institutions, and advanced many concrete proposals
- from the idea of an Economic Security Council to a second
Bretton Woods Conference.
Influencing global agenda
North South Roundtable has sought to influence the climate of
ideas through its deliberations. At times, it has made specific
proposals, some of which have already materialized on the global
agenda. For instance:
• The NSRT in 1980 initiated the idea
of holding North-South summits to resolve some of the key issues
at the highest political level. The first such summit was held
in Cancun in 1981, and the NSRT played a major role in the preparatory
process, but the actual results of the summit fell far short
• The NSRT proposed the setting up of
a South-South Commission which would review the future direction
of development in the South from its own vantage point. The
proposal materialized in the form of the South Commission, headed
by President Nyerere, leading to the publication of a highly-influential
report: The Challenge from the South.
• The NSRT in 1979 suggested a World Summit
on Human Development. The proposal finally culminated in the
Social Summit held in Copenhagen in March 1995.
• The NSRT in 1985 proposed that annual
reports should be prepared on the state of the human condition.
UNDP took up this idea in the form of annual Human Development
Reports (HDRs) in 1990. In fact, this proposal of the NSRT has
had a world-wide impact far beyond any original expectations.
• There are several other concrete proposals
launched by the NSRT which are still being debated in various
global fora: such as, a debt refinancing facility, a new SDR
issue, a second Bretton Woods Conference, an Economic Security
Council, several global levies.
summary, the North South Roundtable has proved to be an influential
intellectual forum for launching new global initiatives as well
as forging a consensus on key development issues on the global
agenda. Its smaller, thematic roundtables have focused on specific
topics in a highly professional manner and the ideas generated
by these roundtables have spread widely, both because of their
inherent strength as well as through the influence of the roundtable
members and NSRT publications.
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