By Lara Shirley
The negotiating strategies employed by the G77+China are very interesting. They are a political entity, and thus have to be highly conscious of the image they project not only to their fellow negotiators but to the wider global community of civil society and media.
The G77 negotiators tend to use precise and sophisticated language, often being the only ones to explicitly demonstrate depth of knowledge on various issues. Their negotiators are highly articulate and educated, and make more of an effort to appear so than their US and EU counterparts. They have more of a need to appear intelligent: Their colleagues from the global North have much more economic and political power outside of the negotiating rooms, so less effort is needed within them.
At the same time, the G77 negotiators will also criticize this language and the process as a whole. They openly say that this dancing around language and meaning is silly, that negotiators should say what they really mean. They call upon fellow delegates to give the true reasons why they want to remove certain text, or even to give any reason at all (which countries don’t always do). They seem to expose the farcical nature of the whole negotiating charade.
They will also often remind their audience that they come from the developing world. For example, at the ’92 Earth Summit, in response to the Northern desire to have a short and “inspirational” Earth Charter that every child could hang above their beds, the G77 pointed out that many children did not even have beds. They pose themselves as a direct opposite to the global North that wants to abuse people and the environment – as advocates for justice and equity.
All of these traits are very appealing to onlookers. Appearing intelligent makes the G77 more respectable, more trustable. Denouncing the process strikes a very strong chord with all the frustrated observers watching people in suits bat semicolons between each other. Harking the unjustly exploited, ditto. They seem to be decent folks.
It’s depressing to realise that these tactics, which ring so close to my heart, are in fact nothing more than that: Tactics. They are tactics because these people are negotiators, they are not simply good people fighting an unjust system, they are people who work within the realm of politics, people whose job it is to negotiate. Tactics are used to push points forward, and those points are not always as morally upright as we would like to think they are.
Apart from the somewhat inevitable contradiction of speaking on behalf of a poverty they have probably never lived through, the G77 negotiators also criticize diplomacy and negotiating strategies only to turn around and work in the exact same way. They avoid mentions of human rights, of civil society, and of environmental conservation. They claim to be talking for their people and environment – but negotiators work for the interests of the governments that pay them, and not necessarily for the masses of hungry people or polluted ecosystems.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make. They definitely do, and I find myself supporting their contributions far more often than those of the US or the EU – but it is essential to keep in mind that the G77 position doesn’t necessarily want the best for everyone.
One thought on “The Game of the G77”
Well the thing about G77 negotiators is that they basically have to do several rounds of negotiating: internally within their countries (different government departments having different agendas and so on) then again as part of their bloc – which takes some time as G77 is representing a vast majority of countries, and so has to navigate really diverse positions (how much to Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Angola and the Philippines have in common?) and then again within the mulitlateral system.
I agree with you about negotiators/governments not necessarily representing their people. But I don’t think anyone would deny that G77 negotiators have their own (perhaps skewed) priorities, given them by their governments. They don’t want what is best for everyone – they want what is best for their country. That’s the approach that all countries come to the circus with!
The point I guess I am trying to make is that there is no moral idealism in the negotiating room. Otherwise they wouldn’t be very good negotiators, would they? I think it’s our job to make a big deal about those ideals, though. But how good are we at doing that? Perhaps slightly better than government representatives, but look at how civil society behaves. Petty personal politics, careerism, nepotism, you name it. Present in every major group. The NGOs can’t even agree on a meeting time for goodness sake!