04/11/2002
Press Release
GA/EF/3014



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Second Committee

25th Meeting (PM)


DEBT-SERVICING BURDEN OF POOREST COUNTRIES UNTENABLE WITH WORSENING


HIV/AIDS SITUATION, HIGH REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECOND COMMITTEE


Strong financial backing, a well-defined operational plan and effective follow-up and review were needed to ensure full implementation of the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon as it began its consideration of the least developed countries (LDCs).


He said that LDCs were making the least progress among Member States in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals.  During the second half of the 1990s, almost 90 per cent of the population of African LDCs were living on less than $2 a day.  Moreover, the number of people living on less than $1 a day would reach 420 million by 2015 if current trends continued, he said.


Drawing attention to the debt burden borne by LDCs, he said it had been made more untenable as the HIV/AIDS situation had begun to create serious adverse effects on their development efforts.  There was a striking correlation between the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) and those with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, he said, adding that there was no possible way they could pay back or service their debt and have an effective HIV/AIDS programme.  It was unconscionable not to take urgent steps to cancel all HIPC/LDC debt, he stressed.


The representative of Benin, speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries, expressed the hope that the new Office of the High Representative would ensure effective and coordinated implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for LDCs.  While commending those United Nations agencies that had incorporated the programme into their work agendas, he also expressed concern that the programme not be ignored like its predecessors.


Echoing the sentiments of other speakers, he welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to conduct an annual review of the programme’s implementation and expressed support for the Secretary-General’s proposal to set up a special trust fund for it.


Malaysia's representative pointed out that the lack of modern infrastructure, coupled with low income and slow economic growth, obstructed the ability of LDCs to end chronic poverty.  Official development assistance (ODA), improved access to developed-world markets for their goods, long-term foreign


capital inflows and more effective ways to overcome supply side constraints and debt burdens were needed.


Angola's representative, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the SADC region was in the process of completing a regional strategic plan to implement the Brussels Programme.  She also reaffirmed SADC’s commitment to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), saying that it would put African countries, particularly African LDCs, on the path to sustained economic growth and development.


A representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said the organization had, under the Brussels Programme, initiated two projects for the development of small agri-businesses in Africa, which would later extend to other LDCs.  In addition, the Brussels Programme had prompted UNIDO to create a wealth of projects and follow-up activities in the areas of rural energy supply and industrial energy efficiency.


Others speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Venezuela (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), Denmark (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Yemen, Switzerland, Egypt, Japan, Norway, Togo, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Bhutan and Cape Verde.


Also making a statement was the head of the Special Programme for LDCs with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


The Second Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, when it is expected to conclude its discussion on the subject of the least developed countries.


Background


Before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on implementation of General Assembly resolution 56/227 on the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (document A/47/496), which outlines steps taken to operationalize the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small-Island Developing States.


It also looks at the mainstreaming of the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 by the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, as well as cooperation between the Office of the High Representative, the United Nations system, other multilateral organizations and Member States.


The report recommends that special attention be given to the effective monitoring of the implementation of action programmes favouring least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries and small-island developing States (SIDS).  While countries benefiting from such programmes will continue to bear primary responsibility for them, their goals cannot be met without the support of development partners, the report notes.


Introduction of Reports


ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small-Island Developing States, introduced the report on the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (document A/57/496), stating that the number of people living on less than a dollar a day in the LDCs would reach 420 million by 2015 if current trends continued. 


In the second half of the 1990s, he said, almost 90 per cent of the population of African LDCs were living on less than $2 a day and LDCs accounted for 17 of the 20 nations that reported the least progress in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals.  Official development assistance (ODA), which directly affects development efforts in the LDCs, had dropped from 0.09 per cent of gross national product (GNP) in 1991 to 0.05 per cent in 2001.


He said that since its creation in April, his Office had undertaken several work plans and a global advocacy role to ensure international support for poverty eradication, capacity-building, economic growth and sustainable development.  It was also promoting progressive global integration of LDCs through efficient and highly visible follow-up, coordination and monitoring of the relevant United Nations programmes of action. 


Stressing the importance of the lessons learned from the implementation experiences of the first two LDC programmes in implementing the recently adopted Brussels Declaration and Programme of Action, he said they included a strong commitment by LDCs and financial support from the international community; a clearly defined operational plan; effective arrangements for continuous follow-up and coordination; and efficient arrangements for monitoring and reviewing progress. 


Drawing attention to the debt burden borne by the LDCs, he said it had been made more untenable as the HIV/AIDS situation was becoming critical in a number of LDCs and had begun to create serious adverse effects on their development efforts.  An analysis of the statistics from the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicated a striking co-relation between the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) and those with high HIV/AIDS prevalence.


He said that a recently published UNAIDS report indicated that reducing the debt burden would boost the AIDS response where it was needed most because annual debt-servicing obligations often undermined countries’ social spending, particularly spending required for their HIV/AIDS programmes.  There was no possible way that those countries would be able to pay back or service their debt on schedule, and at the same time have an effective HIV/AIDS programme, he emphasized, adding that it was unconscionable not to take urgent steps to cancel all HIPC/LDC debt.


Statements


VICENTE VALLENILLA (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, appealed for financial resources to be made available to the Office of the High Representative and stressed that success in following up on the Brussels Programme of Action depended on the support of the international community, especially for resources and technical assistance, which would strengthen the efforts of the LDCs themselves.


At recent United Nations summits, the needs of LDCs had repeatedly been raised and many suggestions made, he continued.  A mechanism to channel funding would be useful in coordinating initiatives and necessary action for implementing the Brussels Programme.  The Group of 77 favoured a trust fund, he said, appealing to Member States to make voluntary contributions to such a fund.  He applauded the work carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and urged it to continue its efforts in that regard.


OLE E. MOESBY (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, looked forward to a dialogue on the further implementation of the outcomes of the Conference on the Least Developed Countries.  The European Union was doing its part to eradicate poverty and spur economic growth in the LDCs by opening its markets to their exports and committing financial and technical support to the UNCTAD.


Noting that great challenges lay ahead for the new High Representative for the LDCs, he said the Office must further strengthen its links to UNCTAD and make full use of the United Nations system.  He welcomed the decisions of several United Nations agencies -- particularly the United Nations Development Programmer (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and, most recently, UNCTAD -- to mainstream the Brussels Programme of Action into their activities, and encouraged other agencies, as well as the Bretton Woods institutions, to do the same.


AHMED AL-HADDAD (Yemen) said that development goals remained elusive for too many LDCs.  The international community had made efforts to assist them in reaching those goals, but the outcomes remained below expectations.  It was hoped that the Office of the High Representative would help overcome the difficulties that LDCs had faced over the past two decades.


He commended the policies and measures laid down in the Brussels Programme of Action, but questioned the effectiveness of its modalities in today’s rapidly changing and globalized world.  The main building block for achieving sustainable development in LDCs was the gradual integration of those countries into the global economy, which meant opening up international trade to LDC exports.  There was also a general need to develop the overall economies of those countries and to build local capacities to finance sustainable and economic development.


JOËL ADECHI (Benin), speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries, expressed the hope that the creation of the Office of the High Representative would lead to effective and coordinated implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action and commended those United Nations agencies that had incorporated it into their work.


Since the launch of the third decade on LDCs two years ago, no specific actions had been taken to implement it. 

He expressed concern that the Plan not be ignored and called on all stakeholders to offer their full cooperation and support.  He also welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to have an annual review of the implementation of the decade and the Secretary-General’s proposal to set up a special trust fund for it.  He also urged development partners to support the creation of such a fund and to contribute generously to it.


OLIVIER CHAVE (Switzerland) said the success of the Brussels Programme of Action could only be assured by broad international and multilateral cooperation.  Its implementation at the regional level offered a stimulating framework, and more effective ODA would provide an interesting foundation to be explored.  The Office of the High Representative could play an important part by giving the Programme more visibility and ensuring its implementation in an integrated framework.


The LDCs should be allowed to overcome constraints in accessing international markets, in order to help them realize their potential for product generation, he continued.  Most LDCs based their economies on commodity crops with wildly fluctuating prices.  Industrialized countries should consider reducing the subsidies they paid their farmers for commodities that were also grown in developing countries.  Attempts should also be made to prevent or resolve conflicts, which currently hindered the development efforts of many LDCs.


AHMED SHIHAB (Egypt) said that the Third Conference on LDCs should benefit from the momentum set during the Millennium Summit and that they deserved special consideration in their efforts to achieve economic and social development.  The Brussels Programme of Action reaffirmed the need for a new spurt of international cooperation based on the principles of common yet differentiated responsibilities, and for the monitoring and review of implementation.


The recent LDC ministerial conference in Benin was proof that LDCs had done all they could to grow their economies, he said, noting that Egypt was doing its part.  For example, the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation in Africa had been at the forefront in providing technical assistance for the continent.  Emphasizing that poverty eradication was not an academic exercise, he said words must be translated into action and urged the swift mobilization of ODA, debt relief and market access for LDC exports.  He called on the United Nations system to incorporate the Brussels Programme into development strategies.


MASASHI MIZUKAMI (Japan) said there would be no stability and prosperity in the 21st century unless Africa’s problems were resolved.  Some 34 of the 49 LDCs were on the African continent, and tackling LDC problems, therefore, meant addressing the problems faced by those African countries.  It was more important than ever to derive the maximum effect from the limited resources available for ODA.  Japan, although still mired in economic malaise, was determined to continue playing an active role as one of the biggest donors in the world.  Every Japanese citizen, including new-born babies, provided approximately $100 every year to developing countries, making Japan’s contribution a fifth of total ODA.


He emphasized that due consideration must be paid to the interrelation between development in the LDCs and the international trade system.  The world had successfully started a new round of negotiations in Doha under the World Trade Organization (WTO), where a variety of timeframes had been agreed upon for working towards the adoption of international trade rules.  Trade bore fruit as long as it was beneficial to both exporting and importing parties, and many LDCs were

dependent on only a few commodity items.  Therefore, it was vital that the international community deliberate on LDC concerns in efforts to expand and secure multilateral and universal trading rules.


OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said that ensuring implementation of the commitments made in Brussels should be given the highest priority by United Nations agencies, other multilateral institutions, the bilateral donor community and LDCs themselves.  Noting that sustainable development and poverty alleviation could not occur unless basic domestic conditions were in place, he welcomed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the progress made in mobilizing ownership for development in the whole region.


He said the LDCs would need enhanced international support in the areas of development aid, debt relief and improved market access and that their efforts, as well as those donors, would fall short of expectations if the private sector was not included in a broad international partnership for economic growth and development.  The international community must involve the business sector and promote more investment in LDCs.  The latter, for their part, must foster a domestic environment conducive to the mobilization of national and international resources.


CHEAH SAM KIP (Malaysia) said that the Brussels Programme of Action articulated the need to pay special attention to multilateral development efforts to benefit LDCs since the LDCs on their own could not lift their populations out of poverty.  The poverty estimates of the 2002 UNCTAD Report on the LDCs clearly indicated that the lack of modern infrastructure, low income and slow economic growth obstructed LDC ability to end chronic poverty.  They needed ODA, as well as improved market access, long-term foreign capital inflows and more aggressive and effective ways to overcome supply side constraints and debt burdens.


He welcomed the decision adopted at the “Group of 8” industrialized countries meeting in Kananaskis, Canada, to achieve a goal for duty-free and quota-free market access for all LDC products, and called for the security of preferences, product coverage, rules of origin and supply capacities.  He also welcomed the Group of 8 decision to add $1 billion to the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Trust Fund in the form of grants rather than loans.


KODJO MENAN (Togo) said the international community had clearly restated its commitment, first made in the Millennium Goals, about landlocked, least developed and small-island countries in the Brussels Programme of Action.  The Programme had been designed to improve considerably the living conditions of more than  600 million people in one of the most deprived areas on the planet.  LDCs had become the focus of extreme poverty in the world economy and they, as well as their development partners, had an overriding need to abide by the commitments made in Brussels.


The Secretary-General’s report noted that the High Representative had taken many initiatives to move the Programme forward, he said.  All members of the international community should respond positively to the Secretary-General’s appeal for voluntary contributions to support that Office.  Noting that many United Nations agencies had already decided to integrate implementation of the Brussels Programme into their work, he said that UNDP and UNICEF had decided to improve their programmes for LDCs, especially as concerned better access to health, education and water.  It was vital that development partners make


sustained efforts to discharge obligations undertaken at major conferences, which would hopefully bring about an increase in ODA, reduced indebtedness and improved market access.


SALEUMXAY KOMMASITH (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) welcomed the creation of the High Representative's office and expressed satisfaction with its performance thus far.  He encouraged the High Representative to continue his work in advocacy and reporting to ensure smooth implementation of the Brussels Programme, and urged Member States to provide the necessary funds and cooperation.


The Lao Government attached great importance to the full implementation of the Brussels Programme and had organized a national forum on the subject, he said.  It had also established a focal point within the Committee for Planning and Cooperation charged with nationwide supervision and monitoring.  The country had already incorporated elements of the Brussels Programme into its Medium-Term Socio-Economic Development Plan and National Poverty Eradication Programme.  The country’s ultimate goal was to graduate from LDC status by 2020 and it hoped the international community would continue to support it in its efforts to integrate into the world economy.


DER KOGDA (Burkina Faso) stressed that LDCs must reduce poverty, meet the challenges of economic growth, strengthen democratic governance and establish strategies for augmenting human resources.  However, they could not do without the financial resources to implement development projects.  He said his own country was trying to strengthen partnerships with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and intended to be selective in taking advantage of the complementarity between donors.  Burkino Faso was currently developing a system to decentralize data on living conditions for the country’s households, particularly those of the poor.


IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said the role of the United Nations Resident Coordinator was vital in synergizing the international community’s support for LDCs at the national level.  He agreed with the Secretary-General’s call for further strengthening of the coordinator system, as well as UNCTAD’s capacity to follow up the Doha Development Agenda.  Coherent action was also required from the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations system, he said, requesting that the High Representative shed light on his recent talks with Bretton Woods officials.


He also called on the High Representative to detail his plans to mobilize individuals of stature, foundations, businesses and non-governmental organizations to implement the Brussels Programme, particularly at the national level.  Bangladesh was doing its part, having introduced an interim poverty reduction strategy, and taken innovative steps such as microcredit programmes and informal education to reduce poverty and socio-economic inequities.


RAMÓN OSIRIS BLANCO DOMÍNGUEZ (Dominican Republic) said that the international community had failed to meet the commitments it had assumed in   1990 in Paris, where Member States had promised to rectify social and economic problems in LDCs, and to give new impetus to their development and growth.  Although the primary responsibility for development lay with the countries concerned, it was time governments and international organizations fulfilled the commitments made in Paris, in Brussels and at all major summits and conferences in the past decade.


The least developed, landlocked and small-island developing countries required urgent attention if they were to begin applying sustainable development strategies to improve the living conditions of their citizens, he said.  Both the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council had discussed the importance of integrating the follow-up to the Millennium Declaration with other summits.  The conferences at Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg had given a common context to international development matters and set the basis for creating a world association favouring development by establishing innovative programmes in which the international community, national governments, civil society, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and others would play a prominent role.


TSHERING GYALTSHEN PENJOR (Bhutan) said that since its creation less than eight months ago, the Office of the High Representative had, despite manpower and resource constraints, made significant progress in strengthening follow-up mechanisms for programmes under its mandate.  Still, the Office was not fully equipped to fulfil that mandate and needed qualified staff for new posts.  Bhutan hoped voluntary contributions would be forthcoming from Member States.


Collaboration and close cooperation among all stakeholders was critical to ensuring implementation of relevant LDC programmes of action, he said, noting that under the chairmanship of Benin, the recent LDC Ministerial Conference in Cotonou had given Member States the opportunity to review progress made in implementing the Brussels Programme and drawn attention to vital issues.  The conference had called for the creation of an LDC Trust Fund, managed by the Office of the High Representative, which he fully supported.  He, in turn, had called on all developed partners to support comprehensive efforts to implement the Brussels Programme and to address urgently the decline in ODA, external debt overhang, commodity and agricultural trade and capacity-building in the LDCs, among other critical issues.


LUIS MONTEIRO DA FONSECA (Cape Verde) noted that both the Brussels and Barbados programmes of action included commitments for increased ODA, duty-free market access and mutual commitments from both developing and developed countries.  Cape Verde was highly motivated to cooperate with the Office of the High Representative in seeking common solutions to assist LDCs.


For their part, many developing countries had approved or were preparing poverty reduction strategies, he said, adding that structural reforms had been adopted to ensure good governance and promote democracy.  But many of the promises made at international conferences had yet to materialize, he noted, expressing the hope that commitments would soon become reality.  That would help many developing countries achieve their development goals, an issue that should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

MARGARIDA ROSA DA SILVA IZATA (Angola), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), welcomed the Cotonou Declaration and the creation of the Office of the High Representative.  She urged Member States to provide timely and sufficient resources to enable the Office to fulfil its mandate in implementing the Brussels Programme.  She also stressed the need for adequate collaboration and coordination within the United Nations system to mobilize international support for poverty eradication, capacity-building, economic growth and sustainable development.


Reaffirming SADC's commitment to NEPAD, she said the initiative would put African countries, particularly African LDCS, on the path to sustained economic growth and development.  While welcoming the recent positive developments in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she also noted that the region continued to face food shortages, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.  The external debt burden continued to constrain the SADC’s capacity to overcome structural problems and spur economic growth.  However, the grouping was in the process of completing a strategic plan to implement the Brussels Programme.


Mr. CASADO, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), reviewed the organization’s programmes emerging from the Brussels Programme that focused on building productive capacities to make globalization work for LDCs and enhancing the role of trade and development.  They included a project aimed at facilitating LDC trade and enhancing export competitiveness by upgrading quality and accreditation infrastructure and productive capacities, primarily in sectors of high-export potential, such as food products, textiles and leather.  UNIDO had set up a trust fund open to donors’ contributions for the financing of that initiative.


He said UNIDO had also initiated two programmes specifically dedicated to the development of small business in the agro-industry sector of LDCs.  The first concerned developing micro and small enterprises in the field of fisheries and agro-industry in rural Senegal.  That programme had been implemented with a UNDP contribution of $600,000 and had already raised the interest of such donors as Austria, France and Luxembourg.  The other programme aimed to reinforce the institutional capacities of civil society and private sector intermediary institutional organizations active in agro-business.  That programme would start on a pilot basis in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Senegal, extending later to other LDCs.


UNIDO’s commitments for promoting sustainable energy systems had also arisen from the Brussels Programme, he said.  That initiative had generated a wealth of projects and follow-up activities in rural energy supply and industrial energy efficiency.  Renewable energy projects promoting solar, wind and biomass in rural areas had been formulated in Bhutan, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Myanmar and Zambia, the last having already won approval for Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding.


HABIB OUANE, Head of UNCTAD’s Special Programme on Least Developed Countries, said that the Conference’s work for LDCs focused on research and policy analysis, consensus-building and technical cooperation for capacity building.  The work of the secretariat on research and policy analysis concentrated mainly on macroeconomic and sectoral and thematic issues of interest to LDCs, with special emphasis on trade, investment and technology.

The overall objective of UNCTAD’s research and policy analysis activities was to contribute to global policy debates and consensus-building on ways to beneficially integrate LDCs into the multilateral trading system and global economy, he said.  Another analytical contribution of UNCTAD related to the perspective of graduation from the least developed category.  That line of work gave the Conference an opportunity to assess where LDCs now stood in relation to established graduation thresholds.


He said that technical cooperation and capacity-building activities were concerned with addressing supply and demand side constraints facing LDCs, landlocked and small-island countries.  Particular emphasis was placed on such areas as human resources development, institutional capacity-building and policy advice on a wide range of issues, especially trade, investment, technology and enterprise development and debt management.  One of the main challenges facing the secretariat was to ensure that technical cooperation and capacity-building programmes would enhance the human and institutional capacities of LDCs.


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