11 November 2005
Implementing Brussels Plan on Least Developed Countries Worries Delegates in Second Committee as It Considers States in Special Situations
NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- As the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met to discuss groups of countries in special situations, delegates expressed unease with the insufficient progress made by least developed countries towards achieving their development goals, despite having entered the fifth year of the Brussels Programme of Action.
Jamaica's representative, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that interlinking problems of weak country ownership, poor capacity for trade and lack of resources were the main constraints holding back progress for least developed countries, a sentiment that was echoed by other delegates. Real action must be taken at the forthcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting to provide duty-free and quota-free access for all products originating from the least developed countries to the markets of developed countries, in order to boost trade and generate economic growth.
Delegates also said that, aside from trade imbalances, widespread poverty compounded their problems. If the incidence of poverty grew at its current rate, the Brussels Programme risked being stymied, a point underscored by Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, when he introduced the report on the Brussels Programme. The incidence of poverty in the world remained high, standing at 43 per cent, and was projected to increase from 334 million people in 2000 to 471 million in 2015. When compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS and the complications of armed conflict, that situation posed a "demographic challenge".
The representative of the Solomon Islands noted that poverty had now created so many groups of States in special situations that some least developed countries had been marginalized with respect to others. Some were in or emerging from conflict situations, while others were recovering from natural disasters of some form. Other issues threatened to divert funds away from core items in the Brussels Programme, including SARS, HIV/AIDS and avian flu, among others.
Several delegates looked upon the upcoming 2006 midterm review process as an opportunity to tweak the Brussels Programme so as to better suit current realities, and requested financial assistance to cover preparation costs. As for the review itself, Benin's delegate said that the Group of Least Developed Countries, which her country chaired, envisioned a two-step process involving a high-level intergovernmental meeting of the General Assembly, followed by a five-day meeting of experts to consider the meeting's outcomes. United Nations regional commissions should simultaneously hold meetings to strengthen regional cooperative arrangements, while national reviews could be undertaken to identify bottlenecks in the Brussels Programme's implementation.
Today's discussion also focused on landlocked developing countries, with delegates pushing for increased trade facilitation, market access and capacity-building for those countries. The representative of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, underscored those countries' weak growth rates and meagre social development, noting also that the growth rate of their collective gross domestic product (GDP) had declined from 2.2 per cent in 2002 to 1.5 per cent in 2003.
Those countries had also suffered high transport and transaction costs due to their geographical disadvantage, he said. The Almaty Programme of Action, which outlined special developmental measures for landlocked developing countries, required similar levels of spending if it was to be implemented, to be provided through increased official development assistance (ODA) and voluntary contributions from one of several trust funds established for that purpose.
Norway's delegate said that if debt relief, emergency assistance and food aid were excluded from ODA statistics, that assistance had actually declined by 3.8 per cent during the period 2002 to 2003. Poor countries needed more and better aid, and although the main responsibility for development lay with least developed countries themselves, the international community -- including developed-country partners -- shared a joint responsibility for successful follow-up.
In other business, the Committee heard the introduction of eight draft resolutions relating to sustainable development.
Other speakers today included the representatives of the United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union), Lesotho (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Bangladesh, Azerbaijan (also on behalf of Georgia and Turkey), China, Cambodia, India, Bhutan, Paraguay, Mali, Japan, Ethiopia, Angola, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nepal, Mongolia, Indonesia, Qatar and Cape Verde.
The representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Also making statements were the observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Second Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday, 11 November, to take action on several draft resolutions.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met today to consider groups of countries in special situations. It was also expected to hear the introduction of a number of draft resolutions relating to various agenda items.
Before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action: Addressing the Special Needs of Landlocked Developing Countries within a New Global Framework for Transit Transport Cooperation for Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries (document A/60/287), which notes that growth in gross domestic product for the 31 landlocked developing nations -- generally among the poorest of developing nations -- declined from 2.2 per cent in 2002 to 1.5 per cent in 2003. In addition, unsustainable external debt in those countries has been increasing, mainly due to low return on investment and slow export growth.
Located far from major markets, landlocked developing countries depend heavily on costly transit through other countries, and are beset with cumbersome procedures and inadequate infrastructure that erode their competitive edge, the report states. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the total freight costs of African landlocked countries in 2001 was four times higher than the developed economy average, and almost twice the average for African developing countries. The 2003 Almaty Programme of Action identified actions to secure access for landlocked developing countries to world markets by all means of transport; reduce trade transaction costs and increase their export competitiveness; eliminate bottlenecks that cause delays, loss and damage en route; and open the way for export expansion. The Programme called for landlocked and transit developing countries to review their regulatory frameworks to allow greater private-sector participation; increase transit and border regulation transparency; establish streamlined administrative procedures; and further simplify border control and procedures.
According to the report, a major obstacle to efficient transport systems is inadequate infrastructure, especially communication facilities, which are needed to ensure advance knowledge of transport service availability and smooth transit. Considerable investment from national resources, international development assistance and public-private partnerships, as well as capacity-building and institutional and policy reform, will be needed to address these needs.
The report notes that nine of the 31 landlocked developing countries and five of the 34 transit developing countries were not members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as of March 2005, missing out on its benefits, including special and differential treatment. According to UNCTAD, the shares of landlocked developing countries in total exports and imports of world merchandise remained small in 2003 -- 0.57 per cent and 0.64 per cent, respectively.
In setting up and maintaining efficient transit transport systems, official development assistance (ODA) remains the main source of external finance for landlocked developing countries, the report says. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics, net ODA received by landlocked developing countries in 2003 reached $11.5 billion, a 13 per cent increase compared to 2002. About 2.4 per cent of that amount was allocated to transport and communications infrastructure. The international community should provide greater market access for goods from landlocked developing countries to minimize the negative impact of transaction costs. Given that ODA remains the major source of investment in the infrastructure development of landlocked developing countries, donor countries and financial and development institutions should provide greater financial resources to transit transport infrastructure projects in landlocked and transit developing countries.
The report invites donor countries and the international financial and development institutions to make voluntary contributions to the Trust Fund set up to ease follow-up and implementation of the outcome of the International Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries and Donor Countries and International Financial and Development Institutions on Transit Transport Cooperation, held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 28 and 29 August 2003.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on the implementation of the programme of action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 (document A/60/81), which discusses the progress that those countries have made in achieving national development aims. That progress is divided into the areas of fostering a people-centred policy framework; engendering good governance at the national and international levels; building human and institutional capacities; building productive capacities to make globalization work for the least developed countries; enhancing the role of trade in development; reducing vulnerability and protecting the environment; and mobilizing financial resources.
Noting that progress towards poverty eradication and sustainable growth has been insufficient in the least developed countries, the report cites projections that the number of people living in extreme poverty may increase from 334 million in 2000 to 471 million in 2015, if current conditions persist. Progress is hampered by poor ownership of issues, lack of capacity to tackle problems and poor resource mobilization. To prevent further marginalization of those countries, United Nations Country Teams should give priority to preparing and implementing national development strategies based on the Brussels Programme of Action. Partnerships between the least developed countries and their development partners should be strengthened, with swift fulfilment of the latter's commitments on ODA, debt relief and trade and technology transfer.
Introduction of Reports
ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, introduced the Secretary-General's report on the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries, saying that the least developed countries must grow at an annual rate of 7 per cent, with a ratio of investment to gross domestic product (GDP) of 25 per cent per year. In 2003, their annual growth rate had reached 5 per cent, while the ratio of investment to GDP stood at 22 per cent, with only 11 countries reaching the 7 per cent GDP target and 7 countries reaching the 25 per cent ratio of investment to GDP.
Poverty remained high at 43 per cent, and it was projected to increase from 334 million people in 2000 to 471 million in 2015, he said. That demographic challenge would become more daunting within the next 10 years with the population in the least developed countries increasing by 200 million, and further complicated by the spread of HIV/AIDS. In addition, half of those countries suffered from or were emerging from conflict. Many were home to refugees or internally displaced persons.
A comprehensive midterm review by the General Assembly would take place next year, and the Office of the High Representative had held two inter-agency meetings in July and September 2005 in preparation of the review, he said. Civil society and private sector contributions were being encouraged.
Mr. CHOWDHURY also introduced the Secretary-General's report on the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action, saying that landlocked developing countries continued to be marginalized, as shown through the slow per capita GDP growth of 1.5 per cent per year in 2003, compared to 2.3 per cent in 2000. Low return on investment and slow export growth had caused the build up of unsustainable external debt, with an external-debt-to-export ratio of 221 per cent in 2003.
Only 1.4 per cent of world total inward investment flows went to 31 landlocked developing countries, he said. Various landlocked and transit developing countries had formulated transit-policy reforms aimed at streamlining transit transportation to reduce the cost of their exported goods by harmonizing transit charges, standardizing facilities and services, and introducing greater participation by the private sector. So far, the Europe-Caucasus-Asia Corridor had resulted in a 2.5 per cent increase in transit traffic in 2004, compared to 1999. Meanwhile, road paving and improving railway transport in Africa were currently the focus of the World Bank. Trade facilitation and technical assistance were other focal points.
He said that one of the major achievements of the year had been the establishment of working relationships with many organizations in the field, including the World Bank, regional development banks, and regional integration organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community, Eurasian Economic Community, Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The representative of Benin called attention to the Conference Room Paper (document E/2005/CRP.7) on implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 (results matrix), asking how the evaluation had been carried out, and whether there were plans to improve it.
Mr. CHOWDHURY replied that the matrix had been circulated informally in 2004 and refined this year. However, it must be continually updated and strengthened. "Off track" notations in the "Assessment" column showed that progress in a certain area had been insufficient in reaching Brussels Programme goals and required more attention.
Other participants asked how the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document would assist in the implementation of the Brussels Programme; whether meetings could be held with regional financial entities to promote their participation in the Programme of Action; and whether the Office of the High Representative was large enough to fulfilling its task.
Mr. CHOWDHURY said with regard to the Outcome Document that it showed a strong political commitment to assist vulnerable countries by including them in a special paragraph and his Office was currently identifying specific actions to accompany that paragraph, which it viewed as a United Nations mandate to focus on the Brussels Programme. In addition, preparations for next year's mid-term review should demonstrate renewed global commitment to the Brussels Programme of Action.
As for the involvement of financial institutions, he said they had already prioritized the transport sector in terms of financial allocations, which augured well for infrastructure development. Landlocked developing countries must continue to develop that relationship, using every opportunity to highlight their needs in maintaining the Programme's momentum.
With respect to the Office of the High Representative, he said that while it was small, due to ongoing efforts to cut United Nations expenditure, it could still achieve much through system-wide collaboration. Its catalytic role so far in implementing the Brussels and Almaty Programmes had been quite productive.
DEIDRE MILLS (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that country ownership, lack of capacity and shortage of resources were interlinking problems that affected the ability of the least developed countries to prepare and fully implement strategies contained in the Brussels Programme of Action. Furthermore, if the current incidence of poverty in those countries continued to increase, the Programme risked being stymied. Real action must be taken at the forthcoming WTO ministerial meeting towards providing duty-free and quota-free access for all products originating from the least developed countries to the markets of developed countries, and to ensure that the principle of special and differential treatment permeated the negotiations and final outcome of those deliberations. The Group of 77 also emphasized the need to accelerate the accession process for least developed countries applying to the WTO.
On the problems of landlocked developing countries, she said that their progress in implementing the Almaty Programme of Action was similarly dependent on the existence of adequate resources, which should be provided both through increased ODA and voluntary contributions to the trust fund established to facilitate follow-up to the Almaty Programme. Trade facilitation, market access and capacity-building -- concerns that had been elaborated in the Asuncion Platform for the Doha Development Round adopted in Paraguay in August 2005 -- must also be brought up at the forthcoming WTO meeting.
ADAM THOMSON (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that integration into the multilateral trading system could offer significant opportunities and generate growth for least developed countries. But translating growth into development opportunities would also depend on complementary policies and decisions in developing countries themselves. Donors and instruments like the Integrated Framework for Least Developed Countries could help, but would not replace ownership and commitments by those nations to integrate trade into their development strategies.
He said preferential market access was particularly important for the poorest countries. The European Union market remained the most open for developing-country exports globally. Its "Everything but Arms" scheme had provided duty-free and quota-free market access to all least developed country exports since 2001. Other developed countries, and more advanced developing countries, should grant duty-free and quota-free market access to all least developed country exports.
The European Union had also adopted a new collective ODA target of 0.56 per cent of GDP by 2010 and would strive to achieve the 0.7 per cent target by 2015, he said. That agreement should double European Union aid from current levels to over $80 billion by 2010. In line with the Brussels Programme of Action, between 0.15 per cent and 0.2 per cent of ODA would be focused on least developed countries. Resources must be also mobilized at the country level within least developed countries by creating appropriate taxation mechanisms and other actions.
ALOUNKÈO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People's Democratic Republic), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, underscored the weak growth rates and meagre social development of that group, noting that their collective GDP growth rate had declined from 2.2 per cent in 2002 to 1.5 per cent in 2003. They had also experienced low returns on investment, slow export growth, unsustainable external debt, and high transport and transaction costs due to their geographical disadvantage. Currently, they spent as much as 13 per cent of their export earnings on freight and insurance services, compared to 8 per cent for other developing countries and 6 per cent for developed economies. Their lack of territorial access to the sea, remoteness and isolation from major world markets, exacerbated by high dependency on transit trade for a narrow range of exports, had remained key reasons for their poor economic performance and marginalization in the multilateral trading system.
Landlocked developing countries had been cooperating with their transit neighbours to improve transit policies and develop efficient transit transport systems in Asia, Africa and Latin America, he said. With the assistance of donors and development partners, many projects were under way in the areas of transport infrastructure development and maintenance, trade facilitation and capacity-building. Those efforts were aimed at facilitating the integration of landlocked developing countries into the regional and global economies.
However, efficient transit transport systems required enhanced partnerships among all stakeholders, including the private sector, he continued. The Almaty Programme of Action must be integrated fully into their respective strategies and work programmes, and greater awareness must be raised at the national, regional and global levels of the urgent need to implement it fully. The international community should provide greater financial and technical support to help landlocked and transit developing nations tackle their transit transport problems.
FERNANDE HOUNGBEDJI ( Benin), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said the Brussels Programme of Action had been inadequately implemented four years after its introduction. If the current pace was any indication, the progress of the world's poorest countries would be far below their objectives at the end of the decade. In that light, next year's comprehensive midterm review was important because it could provide a platform for the international community to adjust old strategies, where needed, in order to sustain the efforts of least developed countries and to integrate the implementation of commitments from development partners.
Regarding the review process, she said least developed countries envisioned a high-level intergovernmental meeting of the General Assembly, to be proceeded by a five-day meeting of experts to consider the meeting's outcomes. At the same time, the United Nations regional commissions should hold meetings to strengthen existing regional cooperative arrangements, and the results of those meetings could guide the international community to better translate its ideas into concrete activities and measures. Meanwhile, national reviews should be undertaken to identify bottlenecks in the Brussels Programme's implementation. Since conducting national and regional activities in that manner would require time, focal agencies at the United Nations must be activated, and financial aid mobilized, to ensure that those activities did indeed take place. The participation of civil society must be encouraged, since their supportive role in implementing the Programme remained essential.
LEBOHANG FINE MAEMA (Lesotho), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the region aimed to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the quality of life for the people of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration. However, its efforts were undermined by low levels of economic growth; difficulties in integrating into the global economy; low levels of technology; commodity dependency; natural disasters; and the widespread impact of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases.
Noting that the Brussels Programme had forged a global partnership between least developed countries and development partners, he emphasized the need for its speedy and timely implementation, as called for in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. If the current situation persisted, the number of people in least developed countries who lived in extreme poverty could increase from 334 million in 2000 to 471 million in 2015. The international community must expeditiously attain the 0.15 to 0.20 per cent GDP target for ODA; increased and predictable aid flows; technology; transfer of technical and financial assistance for human and institutional capacity-building; improved market access; and increased foreign direct investment (FDI).
The SADC region had continued to suffer from a debilitating debt burden that hampered its ability to finance social and economic development, he said. Many least developed countries in the region spent more on debt-servicing than on the key social sectors needed to achieve the Millennium Goals. While least developed countries welcomed the Group of 8 proposal to cancel debt for some heavily indebted poor countries, the only lasting solution was debt cancellation for all least developed countries.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that based on his own country's experience, a vibrant civil society that cooperated with public authorities was important to economic development. External assistance, when applied prudently using a mix of outside and home-grown concepts, was highly effective in alleviating poverty, as in the case of microcredit, where domestic initiatives were supported by financial and technical assistance from development partners. The policies and programmes of Bangladesh's Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, harmonized with the policies of development partners, had led to a reduction of the poverty head-count ratio to 42.1 per cent in 2004, on the way to reaching the Millennium Development Goal target of 29.4 per cent.
To aid developing countries, the international community must provide an enabling global background, he said. That included allowing immediate duty-free, quota-free market access to all products from least developed countries; eliminating the arbitrary use of non-tariff barriers, non-trade barriers and other restrictive measures of protectionism against least developed country products; providing adequate financial and technical assistance to least developed countries affected by compliance with WTO regimes, including the Multi-Fibre Arrangements; granting temporary access to service providers from least developed countries into developed country markets; and bringing in much-needed finance to meet adjustment costs arising from trade reforms, through the "Aid for Trade" mechanism. Ensuring environmental sustainability was also important, since most least developed countries, like Bangladesh, were vulnerable to natural disasters.
YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking also on behalf of Georgia and Turkey, stressed the importance of a regional transport network for close cooperation in economic and trade relations to ensure sustainable development and security within the South Caucasus region, as well as Eurasia as a whole. The region had proceeded from developing the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor to improving the transport infrastructure and reviving the historic silk route.
He recalled that in May 2005, the Presidents of Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan had signed a joint declaration on the Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi-Baku new railroad connection project, which would become a key link in the East-West energy corridor and promote economic growth and stability in the region. Certain engineering and technical works on the Kars-Akhalkalaki section should be completed by the end of 2005, and construction of the railroad connection would begin by mid-2006. The project had a key role in integration with the Trans-European Railway Network. It was being developed at a time of rapidly growing international trade and rising transport flows involving nations of the region that were willing to find an operational transport network capable of meeting those needs.
Speaking for his own country, he said several projects had been developed and major works carried out to construct the Baku-Alat highway. World Bank-financed reconstruction of the Ganja-Gazakh highway was under way and the Tran-Caucasian Railway, financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, had been completed. Reconstruction of the Baku International Sea Trade Port had continued, and the Marine Passenger Terminal had been completed. Reconstruction of Nakhchivan International Airport had also been completed, streamlining air communications in the Nakhchivan region of Azerbaijan, which had been under a complete blockade for more than a decade.
YAO WENLONG (China), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said trade was the engine for the development of least developed countries, and it was to be hoped that developed countries would work with UNCTAD and other specialized agencies to bolster their capacity for trade. At the same time, developed countries should improve the external trade environment for least developed countries and grant their exports market access without quotas or tariffs. China supported the least developed countries in all their rational suggestions for eliminating poverty and achieving economic and social development through the granting of zero-tariffs on some imports and the stepping up of assistance to members of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt initiative.
As a transit developing country, China understood the special difficulties of landlocked developing countries and had actively engaged in trade, as well as economic and technical cooperation with them in support of their economic development, he said. President Hu of China and President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan had signed a Joint Declaration on the Establishment and Development of Strategic Partnership, with specific mention of scaling up the transport services of both countries. Meanwhile, China would also provide transit transport services to its other neighbours on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
CHEM WIDHYA ( Cambodia) said his country was taking steps to diversify its economy and embrace light industrial, as well as agro-business activities, but it was facing tariff and non-tariff barriers. Access to developed-country markets remained a high priority, especially for agricultural products, as 80 per cent of Cambodia's population made their living from agricultural production and related activities. Despite efforts by least developed countries themselves, they continued to face economic difficulties as they remained marginalized from the benefits of globalization.
He said that the Brussels Programme of Action could be applied only by forging a broad multilateral institutional alliance at the national, regional and global levels, which would ensure the participation of bilateral and multilateral institutions, as well as the public and private sectors. Hopefully, the Programme's midterm review next September would bring new energy to it.
ELISABETH DROYER (Norway) said that although the main responsibility for development lay with least developed countries themselves, the international community -- including developed country partners, least developed countries, United Nations agencies and other multilateral development agencies -- shared a joint responsibility for a successful follow-up. Least developed countries needed more and better aid and if debt relief, emergency assistance and food aid were excluded from the statistics, the disbursement of ODA to those countries could be seen as having declined by 3.8 per cent during the period 2002 to 2003, despite the fact that overall ODA had increased.
She said that more than 43 per cent of Norway's bilateral ODA was channelled to least developed countries. Indeed, those countries needed targeted debt relief, and the Debt Sustainability Framework, which focused on prudent borrowing and lending, was very important in that respect. Regarding the Group of 8 proposal to cancel debt, Norway believed it should be implemented not in part or in spirit, but in full and strictly to the letter. Other measures, such as increasing investment and improving market access, were just as important, as was the need to develop the production and trade capacity of, and employment opportunities in, developing countries through financial and technical assistance. Norway was currently a major supporter of the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries, the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme for African Countries and various trust funds for technical assistance in UNCTAD, and the WTO.
HARIN PATHAK ( India) said the Brussels Programme of Action recognized the importance of mobilizing domestic resources in financing the development needs of least developed countries. Domestic resources should be made the foundation for self-sustaining development. Some countries had evolved strong institutions, while others were still doing so, which affected their capacity to mobilize resources. A "one-size-fits-all" approach for least developed countries was impractical and unlikely to succeed. International organizations could play an important role by providing replicable models and information, which would help least developed countries to build national capacities for domestic resource mobilization.
The Brussels Programme also recognized the role of trade in growth and development in least developed countries, he said. The international community should assist them to build capacity in manufacturing and other sectors to enable them eventually to diversify away from dependence on commodity exports. The expansion in trade between least developed countries and other developing countries had been significant in recent years. The share of least developed country exports to other developing countries had reached 34 per cent in 2002, an increase of 20 per cent in less than 15 years. The share of other developing countries in least developed country imports had increased during the same period by almost 25 per cent to reach 56 per cent. Such figures were an eloquent testimony to the potential for enhanced South-South cooperation.
DAW PENJO (Bhutan), aligning himself with the Group of 77, the Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said he was disconcerted that in the fifth year of implementing the Brussels Programme of Action, the progress achieved by least developed countries towards their various development goals remained insufficient. The midterm review in 2006 should be comprehensive and held at the highest possible level. An expert-level meeting should immediately precede the review and other preparatory meetings organized at the regional levels by United Nations regional commissions. Adequate resources from the regular budget, as well as extrabudgetary sources, should be mobilized to ensure the success of the preparatory meetings and the midterm review. Without financial support, least developed countries would find it extremely difficult to participate in the meetings.
He said there was a need to integrate the Brussels Programme fully into the development policies, strategies and programmes of development partners. There was also a need to improve the collection, organization, analysis and exchange of statistical information to build national capacities for monitoring progress. The midterm review should seek ways to ensure that stakeholders sincerely fulfilled their commitments with regard to ODA, especially since the resource base of least developed countries was limited. The primary responsibility for development rested with individual countries, and Bhutan was doing everything required to realize its goals with the generous and financial and technical support of its development partners.
ELADIO LOIZAGA ( Paraguay) emphasized that landlocked developing countries required more international support to overcome the difficulties they faced due to their geographic locations. International, regional and subregional development and financial organizations should place more emphasis on assisting those countries that had been left behind in development efforts due to their remoteness and lack of infrastructure, which, in turn, hindered their attempts to join global markets. More effective efforts should be made to facilitate trade for landlocked nations in WTO negotiations. International financial institutions and regional organizations should assist them in setting up better and more efficient transit transport systems so that they could increase their competitiveness and join the international trading system.
N'GOLO FOMBA ( Mali) noted that the international community had made commitments in the Brussels Programme of Action to assist least developed countries in achieving development goals, and had provided for a monitoring mechanism to assess progress. Five years later, most developing countries had fulfilled their commitments to establish and implement national development strategies, and had appointed focal points.
For their part, he said, development partners had succeeded in reversing the downward ODA trend, but unlimited access to developed-country markets for least developed country products, as stipulated in the Brussels Programme, had not been implemented. Due to subsidies in rich countries, least developed countries had been incurring huge losses in export income, especially for cotton. Regrettably, most least developed countries had made little progress in attaining the goals laid down in the Brussels Programme, the midterm review of which must detail any achievements that had been made and propose strategies to reach development targets.
S. SHAHID HUSAIN, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that the Islamic Development Bank, a specialized institution of the OIC based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, had a special programme to support least developed member countries through poverty reduction and economic growth. It concentrated on human-resource development, water supply, agriculture, education and health. In 2004-2005, 26 least developed and four other member countries treated as such, had received $269.39 million for development operations. The bank had approved 25 per cent of applications from least developed countries compared to 17.5 per cent the year before. The aggregate financing approval for least developed countries over the past 27 years since the bank's inception totalled $2.82 billion.
He said that the OIC's other subsidiary organs and specialized institutions with attachments to the Brussels Programme included: the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Rabat, Morocco; the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Karachi, Pakistan; the Islamic Centre for Development of Trade in Casablanca, Morocco; the Islamic University of Technology in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries in Ankara, Turkey. They provided technical support to least developed countries in business, trade, training and international information flows. In the spirit of enhancing the OIC's cooperation with the United Nations, a memorandum of understanding had been signed by the OIC Secretary-General and Anwarul Chowdhury, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
KAZUO SUNAGA ( Japan) stressed that the challenges facing least developed countries could only be tackled through comprehensive action. Promoting trade and investment was vital to the attainment of sustainable growth because they created job opportunities and sources of income. South-South cooperation, including the promotion of regional trade, could surely add new sources of financing and develop new export capacities in least developed countries.
He said Japan had helped accelerate the interaction between Asia and Africa through the Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) process and would hold the fourth Africa-Asia Business Forum in 2006, in collaboration with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to strengthen business ties between the two continents. As for landlocked countries, Japan had been actively engaged in WTO negotiations on trade facilitation for them. It had submitted proposals emphasizing the merits of trade facilitation and co-hosted a proposal containing specific measures to benefit landlocked countries by promoting the transit of goods.
SUSAN BRANDWAYN, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said that UNCTAD's Least Developed Countries Report, the main research and policy output for that group of countries, addressed the linkages between international trade and poverty reduction, and the right combination of national and international policies required to improve the socio-economic performance of least developed countries. The UNCTAD itself engaged in numerous technical cooperation and capacity-building activities for those countries, which focused on human-resources development and institution-building; helping with policy formulation and implementation; assisting in negotiations on trade investment; and building a services infrastructure for development and trade efficiency. Some examples of UNCTAD's work included a project on sustainable cotton production in West Africa, and another on mining and poverty in Tanzania. In the area of debt management, UNCTAD was collaborating with 28 institutions, including finance and economic planning ministries and banks, in 21 of 50 least developed countries.
She said UNCTAD wished to put on record its appreciation for donors that had contributed generously to the UNCTAD trust fund for least developed countries. Its future projects included national and regional workshops to enable Government policymakers to exchange experiences and, thus, learn from each other at a practical level on trade and poverty reduction strategies. The UNCTAD had already started preparations for the midterm review of the Brussels Programme of Action, and hoped to conduct a high-level round table on "employment opportunities".
FESSEHA TESFU ( Ethiopia) said his country's Government had put poverty eradication at the heart of its development strategies and programmes. As a source of livelihood for more than 85 per cent Ethiopia's population, agriculture was the backbone of the economy whose performance was strongly linked with food security and poverty reduction. The Government attached great importance to private sector development of agricultural markets, proliferation of rural microfinance institutions and domestic credit markets, improvement in land tenure security through land certification, and expansion of transport links.
Progress to date in improving the competitiveness of landlocked developing countries had been insignificant, he said. In Africa, they were still faced with poorly developed infrastructure and inconsistent, as well as conflicting, transit policies, which had led to excessive marginalization from international trade, mainly due to high transit transport costs.
He said that any yardstick to measure progress in implementing the Almaty Programme for landlocked countries should measure the extent to which fundamental transit rules and documents were harmonized, simplified and standardized; the amount of infrastructure that had been developed and maintained; and the facilitation of international trade. Despite the achievements made to date, the Almaty Conference's vision of galvanizing international solidarity and partnership to address the special needs and problems of landlocked countries and their transit neighbours had yet to be translated into concrete action.
ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Southern African Development Community, expressed concern over the performance of least developed countries, saying they were unable to meet their development goals due to the lack of resources. In those countries, 43 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty, and their low development indicators were compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS, conflict, and geographical disadvantages. Addressing those problems required interactive approaches, country ownership and the implementation of global partnerships, as envisaged in the Brussels Programme of Action.
He said that problems of debt sustainability must be solved quickly, and that measures to stimulate economic growth should be introduced, which hopefully, would happen at the forthcoming WTO ministerial meeting. Angola had adopted a comprehensive strategy to combat poverty that focused specifically on social integration, destruction of landmines, food security and rural development, HIV/AIDS, education, basic infrastructures, employment and training, governance and macroeconomic management. Furthermore, to prepare for the upcoming review of the Brussels Programme, Member States should take the necessary steps to ensure full participation of all stakeholders, and focus on setting up the best modalities for the review.
BARLYBAY SAKYKOV ( Kazakhstan) noted that Central Asia was a key transit point between Europe, Russia, China and South Asia. Its integration into the world economy was vital to the social and economic development of its countries and the world economy as a whole. Being landlocked, the difficulties that Central Asian States faced when crossing borders or when in transit, significantly affected their trade capacity and reduced their competitiveness in the global market. The efficient use of transit capacity, interaction and cooperation between States in optimizing transportation costs and simplifying administrative procedures were all crucial to the region's successful economic development.
Kazakhstan attached great importance to regional cooperation, he said, and it had initiated, together with the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), an International Conference on Strengthening Subregional Economic Cooperation in Central Asia, held in Astana in May 2005. Participants had discussed economic cooperation and reform of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia, and adopted a Programme of Work aimed at improving subregional coordination and cooperation among Governments, international organizations and donor countries.
OMAR BOUCHIAR (Morocco), aligning himself with the Group of 77, noted that least developed countries were unable to attain the growth rates that would enable them to attain their development goals, owing to the weakness of human capital in those countries, as well as poor economic structures. Without financial aid from the international community, least developed countries could not be expected to make much progress. They required help to build their export capacity, as well as free access to markets around the world, and their exports should not be subject to quotas.
For its part, Morocco had hosted a ministerial conference with least developed countries in June 2003, which had been seen as an opportunity to relaunch the debate on troublesome socio-economic problems facing those countries, he said. Since then, Morocco had continued to maintain solid ties with least developed countries, and had played its part in eliminating poverty through South-South cooperation and partnerships with regional organizations such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), as well as through the Moroccan Agency for International Cooperation. Debt owed by African least developed countries had been cancelled and tariffs on their export products lifted.
MADHU RAMAN ACHARYA ( Nepal) said his country's situation had been compounded by protracted violence perpetrated by terrorists, which had resulted in human casualties and ruined infrastructure. Countries emerging from violent conflict or vicious forms of terrorism needed special packages to alleviate their problems. The Government had undertaken a people-centred approach to development, which focused on institution-building, a decentralized and corruption-free governance system, and effective service delivery to people at the grass-roots level.
Debt relief was equally important in attaining sustained economic growth, as were WTO negotiations on development issues, he said. As least developed countries lacked a competitive edge and faced serious supply-side constraints, the international community should promote a level playing field for them by providing enhanced technical support and expanded trading opportunities with unhindered market access for their products to the markets of developed, as well as other developing, countries.
OCHIR ENKHTSETSEG (Mongolia), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that the establishment of an efficient transit transport system, infrastructure development and maintenance, and trade facilitation were of high priority for landlocked developing countries. Mongolia had initiated a Tripartite Framework Agreement with neighbouring Russia and China that would provide a legal framework for an efficient transit system to and through Mongolia by allowing freedom of transit by all modes of transport and by simplifying customs procedures. Six rounds of talks had been inconclusive, but it was to be hoped that the next tripartite meeting, starting next week, would be more fruitful. Meanwhile, the construction of an east-west arterial road and five vertical roads had begun in 2001, within the framework of the "Rural Road Development Project", and with support from bilateral and multilateral development partners. Also ratified was the landmark intergovernmental agreement on the Asian Highway Network, which would result in 141,000 kilometres of standardized roadways spanning 32 Asian countries.
He said that the Asuncion Platform for the Doha Development Round, adopted by ministers in Paraguay last August, captured the common stand of landlocked developing countries. Mongolia, as a WTO member, looked forward to engaging actively in trade facilitation talks. Hopefully, the needs of landlocked developing countries would be given special attention so as to facilitate their fuller integration into the multilateral trading system.
PRAYONO ATIYANTO ( Indonesia) stressed that financing for development must flow, and conducive international financial and trading systems must be created to assist the most vulnerable countries. National policy space to apply appropriate international policy instruments must also exist, and international support for capacity-building, infrastructure development, including transport and information and communication technology, must continue. Finally, bilateral, regional and interregional cooperation must play an important role in complementing global efforts.
He said Indonesia would continue to respond to the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked and small island developing countries within the framework of technical cooperation among developing countries, including tripartite arrangements and the Non-Aligned Movement Centre for South-South Technical Cooperation in Jakarta. Since 1981, over 6,000 participants from more than 100 developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe had attended training programmes organized by Indonesia. The Government had also regularly granted scholarships for studies in the country, and would be pursuing similar arrangements through the new Asian-African Strategic Partnership.
ABDULLAH HAMAD AL-HADFA (Qatar), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that the social and economic disparities facing poor countries must be eliminated within the framework of the Brussels Programme of Action. Qatar welcomed the Economic and Social Council's request for developing countries and their partners to integrate the Brussels Programme into their national policies.
Because the progress of least developed countries had been slow and unequal, outside help from the international community was needed to spur their growth, he said. Poverty weighed those countries down and was a complex and multifaceted phenomenon stemming from limited access to social services, property, credit and information technology. Furthermore, the poor were excluded from the political process and suffered from income inequality. International efforts must explore ways to eliminate those gaps and ensure civil society's participation.
Welcoming the assistance provided to least developed countries in facilitating their access to markets, he noted, however, that their gains were limited to what developed countries were willing to contribute. Qatar appealed to the international community to mobilize all stakeholders to ensure comprehensive follow-up to the Brussels Programme, and to exercise the political will needed to bring about real change.
HELEN BECK ( Solomon Islands) said that the people of least developed countries, the world's most vulnerable populations, had seen their numbers grow over the years. More than half were in or emerging from conflict situations, while others were recovering from natural disasters of some form. New issues had emerged since Brussels that were diverting funds away from the Programme's implementation, including SARS and avian flu, among others. Poverty had now created so many groups of States in special situations that some least developed countries had been marginalized with respect to others. Closer coordination should be established between agencies and with Member States in providing assistance to least developed countries.
She said that next year's review of the Brussels Programme should focus on providing assistance for new and emerging challenges facing least developed countries. Such assistance should focus on the cancellation of unsustainable debt; strengthening national data collection; streamlining the United Nations system into specific programmes for least developed countries; capacity-building through education; strengthening the role of regional organizations in mainstreaming the Brussels Programme into regional programmes; infrastructure development; and food security.
JOSÉ MARIA SILVA ( Cape Verde) said that limited resources and capacity were the biggest obstacles to implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action for least developed countries. Although they possessed some experience that could assist developed and emerging countries, those countries lacked capacities that could lead them to sustainable development as they required capacity-building in almost all areas. Another vital element for development was trade. Hopefully, the WTO would place the needs and interests of least developed countries at the heart of its negotiations and highlight their special needs in the multilateral trading system.
Cape Verde had begun its smooth transition process towards exiting the least developed country group this year, he said. But despite achievements made, current and emerging challenges required unwavering commitment to the goals already set, continued hard work and strong development partnerships, both with partners and among national stakeholders.
Rights of Reply
The representative of Armenia, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to the earlier statement by Azerbaijan's delegate, in which he spoke also on behalf of Georgia and Turkey. Azerbaijan had spoken of its so-called commitment to developing efficient transport transit cooperation in the region, stating that its railroad project was a regional initiative aimed at securing sustainable development in the Caucasus region. Any attempt to justify that initiative by such an argument without the support of all regional actors was invalid and unacceptable.
He said that Azerbaijan's representative had said the project would open up movement to Europe, but that could not be the case, since Azerbaijan had kept its western borders closed for over a decade as a means of political pressure. Since its independence, Armenia had been advocating for regional cooperation, which would help the creation of a favourable environment and a lasting solution to conflicts in the region. Any politically motivated project that did not involve all countries of the region could not contribute to prosperity in the southern Caucasus, and could find no support within the international community.
The representative of Azerbaijan responded by saying that Armenia's delegate had deliberately erased certain facts from his institutional memory. From the date of Armenia's independence, that country had followed the policy of occupying another sovereign State. Regarding the project, Azerbaijan attached great importance to regional cooperation, and was committed to the railway connection project. The project responded to growing trade in the region, and could absorb rising transport flows.
She added that the rail project, which offered an alternative rail link from Asia to Europe, was based on economic interests. Instead of hurling accusations, it would be better for the neighbouring State to face the truth. If it was pressured by development problems, perhaps it should reconsider its policy of occupying foreign States.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Turkey said her country was committed to the Almaty Programme of Action and noted that a good regional transport network and improved infrastructures were important for the region's economic growth. Furthermore, it was in the interest of the region's stability and welfare that Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia engage in the railroad project, which would be implemented in accordance with the European Neighbourhood Policy to meet the needs of the whole region.
Regarding the supposed blockade on Armenia, she said that country's statement lacked any legal basis and was far from the truth. No blockade existed, and ships bearing the Armenian flag passed through the Turkish straits quite freely, as did Armenian carriers through Turkish airspace. Similarly, Armenian citizens were free to travel to Turkey. Indeed, Armenia had been invited as a founding member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
Finally, she said States had a right to choose those with whom they wished to trade. Armenia did not officially recognize the borders it shared with Turkey, as delineated in a 1921 treaty, choosing instead to refer to eastern Anatolia as " Western Armenia". If Armenia was concerned about the lack of friendliness on the part of its neighbours, it was that country's duty to consider the reasons why.
CHERRYL GORDON (Jamaica) introduced, on behalf of Group of 77 and China, a draft resolution on the implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (document A/C.2/60/L.20), saying it took account of the development section of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, and linked the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation with Agenda 21.
She also introduced draft resolutions on the follow-up and implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (document A/C.2/60/L.21); the Convention on Biological Diversity (document A/C.2/60/L.22); the Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind (document A/C.2/60/L.23); the report of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme on its twenty-third session (document A/C.2/60/L.24); International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (document A/C.2/60/L.25); and the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (document A/C.2/60/L.26).
THOMAS GASS ( Switzerland) introduced a draft on sustainable mountain development (document A/C.2/60/L.19), saying it focused on opportunities and challenges of mountain areas from a wide range of perspectives, and in a pragmatic way. It emphasized the need to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development in mountains, making use of a wider range of instruments to that effect.
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