|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference to Launch ‘Least Developed Countries Report 2010’
of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
The international community must go beyond “business as usual” and develop a new international development architecture because current economic regimes had not worked in favour of least developed countries in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, United Nations officials stressed during a Headquarters press conference today.
Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said the current internationalsupport measures for least developed countries had not sufficiently accelerated growth and development. They had also failed to promote the graduation of least developed countries, with only two of the 49 countries on the list having graduated since the establishment of the category in 1971, he said during the launch of the Least Developed Countries 2010 report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Describing the report as a key substantive input in the preparations for the upcoming Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, he said it called for the creation of a new international development architecture that would be based on five pillars: finance; trade; commodities; technology; and climate change. It called for support mechanisms that would go beyond the current trade-focused approaches, which had proven inadequate in the aftermath of the global financial and economic downturn. The Conference will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, from 30 May to 3 June 2011.
Charles Gore, Special Coordinator for Cross-sectoral Issues in UNCTAD’s Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes, said that despite high rates of economic growth in least developed countries over the last decade, they still desperately needed international support. The boom had been led mainly by soaring commodity prices, which had resulted in greater economic vulnerability due to rising export concentration and dependence on commodities.
He said the report examined international support measures over the last 10 years and focused on eight steps specific to least developed countries, which had been followed up by organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Several had merely symbolic, rather than practical, developmental impact, he said, adding: “In a de facto sense, there was inertia in policy practices and very little change on the ground.” In 2008, least developed countries had received $37 billion in aid, he added, noting, however, that had the official development assistance (ODA) target of 0.15 per cent of gross national income been met, they would have received nearly $60 billion.
Global economic regimes were not in line with special support measures for least developed countries, he continued, pointing out that they focused primarily on intellectual property rights rather than technology transfer. Furthermore, models of financial and trade liberalization within those regimes were insufficient in the context of least developed countries, where enterprise capacities were very weak. In that regard, the report advocated for international support mechanisms focused on developing productive capacities to help least developed countries create employment opportunities outside the agricultural sector and while producing a broader range of higher value-added goods and services.
He said the report also underscored the importance of enhancing South-South cooperation as a critical source of foreign direct investment, trade and other financial inflows. While there was strong recognition of the least developed country category within the United Nations and international trading systems, it was incomplete within the global financial architecture, including in the areas of aid and debt relief, he said. The report’s key argument, therefore, was that while current international support measures must be improved, they would not on their own be enough.
Asked about concrete proposals for new support measures, Mr. Diarra said his Office had proposed the establishment of a special facility to increase the resilience of least developed countries. It would be funded mainly through such mechanisms as special taxation of international financial transactions, he added, noting that the use of International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights in support of least developed countries had also been proposed.
Mr. Gore added that there had been a proposal on the global level to reduce the volatility of commodity prices, or their negative impact on least developed countries. A proposal on the innovative use of aid would have interested countries create national technology bodies, to be financed via a multi-donor trust fund, that would provide grants to local domestic enterprises for the introduction of new products and processes.
Responding to a question about potential candidate countries for graduation, Mr. Diarra said the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) used certain criteria to recommend candidates in a process that took about three years. However, the final decision came from the General Assembly and the process took an average of nine years, from start to finish. The Maldives was set to graduate in January, but was reluctant to do so, given its environmental vulnerability, he said. In the case of Equatorial Guinea, which would like to remain on the list of least developed countries until 2020, the Assembly not had yet approved the Economic and Social Council’s recommendation for its graduation.
When asked about the absence of conversation on education in least developed countries, Mr. Diarra said efforts to develop productive capacities must begin by empowering national human capital, which required the provision of education. The education targets contained in the Brussels Programme of Action were the same as those of the Millennium Development Goals, he noted.
Expanding on that point, Mr. Gore said there had been a significant acceleration in primary school enrolment in least developed countries, but there remained a need to expand human-resource development across the education spectrum.
Asked whether the United Nations was open to creating a separate category for small island developing States, Mr. Diarra said most of them were considered middle-income countries and were ineligible for certain preferential treatment accorded to their least developed counterparts. While their request was understandable, the final decision rested with the General Assembly, he added.
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