10 January 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Top United Nations Envoy for World’s Most Vulnerable Countries


on Preparations for Istanbul Conference on Least Developed Countries, 9-13 May


While the poorest among the world’s most vulnerable countries had made solid development gains over the past decade, donors and the wider international community must continue to provide assistance and help foster an environment in which such advances could be sustained and built upon, correspondents heard today.


Cheick Sidi Diarra, the Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States had called the press conference as Member States kicked off the first of two week-long meetings at Headquarters to firm up arrangements for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which will be held in Istanbul from 9 to 13 May.  The second Preparatory Committee will be held from 4 to 8 April.  (For background, see Press Release DEV/2856.)


At the Istanbul Conference, he said, stakeholders planned to comprehensively assess the implementation of the 2001-2010 Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, and, among other objectives, share best practices and lessons learned, and identify obstacles encountered during the Decade, as well as actions needed to overcome them.  They also planned to identify new challenges and opportunities for least developed countries and reaffirm the global commitment to address their special needs.


Mr. Diarra said the Preparatory Committee meeting was the culmination of 18 months of national and regional consultations.  There had been nine pre-conference events dedicated to specific themes identified as important for least developed countries, and seven more such events were scheduled over the next four months.  At least 200 delegations were gathered in New York to begin negotiations on the Istanbul Conference’s outcome document.


At the beginning of the process, he said, “there is a feeling of goodwill and seriousness among the negotiators”.  He believed that the eventual outcome document and accompanying political declaration would help re-set the global development agenda for the decade ahead.


In his opening address to the preparatory meeting, he said he had highlighted that, in the wake of the Brussels agreement, least developed countries and their donor partners had made a “good effort” to meet their commitments, especially in areas such as debt relief, trade, official development assistance (ODA), and foreign direct investment.  Nonetheless, gaps needed to be filled.


“The world is a very different place today than it was in 2001,” he said, adding that new challenges had emerged and a nearly uninterrupted string of crises since the middle of the past decade — from the Indian Ocean tsunami to wildly fluctuating oil and commodity prices — had hit least developed countries particularly hard.


With that in mind, he said that, during discussions ahead of the Preparatory Committee meeting, his Office and other United Nations entities and stakeholders had identified key priorities that would be crucial to the discussions in Istanbul.  Among those was the need to build a critical mass of viable and diversified productive capacities; improve access to technology; promote an “agricultural revolution” to eliminate hunger and ensure food security; ensure universal access to basic services and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals; manage climate change and ensure a genuine “Green New Deal” for least developed countries; and ensure good developmental governance, as well as peace, security, conflict prevention and resolution.


He said he had also urged in his remarks that Istanbul not be seen as a conference only targeting least developed countries; he had impressed upon Member States that the situation of the world’s 48 poorest countries was a matter of global concern.  Indeed, all participants “should acknowledge that it is a matter of equity and solidarity that we should all stand up and deliver in Istanbul”.


Responding to questions about what the United Nations expected from the Conference, he said that Brussels had been marked by the successful launch of several practical initiatives, including boosting the number of and easing restrictions on products from the least developed countries that could be sold to European Union countries, as well “aid for trade” programmes, and measures aimed at increasing agricultural capacity and productivity.  He expected further concrete action along those lines.


As for sticking points, he said that, while most of the issues required little haggling — “after all, these are the poorest of the poor […] these are issues of equity and solidarity we’re talking about” — delegations might run into some resistance on matters regarding property and other trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs), as well as rules of origin, and increasing flexibility to transfer technology among least developed countries.  He added that donors were not yet fully on board regarding the creation of some type of resilience-building facility for least developed countries.


He told another correspondent that the Istanbul Conference’s outcome document “will not be binding in the manner of an international treaty”, but would take the form of a strong political declaration backed by a plan of action based on solidarity and ethical values set out in the United Nations Charter.  He also envisioned a follow-up mechanism that would, at agreed intervals, remind stakeholders of the need to stand by their commitments.


After reviewing for correspondents the recent path of Maldives’ graduation from the United Nations list of least developed countries, he noted that Equatorial Guinea had recently been recommended for graduation, owing to a spike in that country’s oil revenue.  That recommendation had been transmitted to the Economic and Social Council and subsequently forwarded to the General Assembly, where a final decision would be made after detailed review and consultations.


At the same time, he said that, while the Government of Equatorial Guinea had acknowledged that per capita incomes had been boosted by oil profits, it was nevertheless concerned about its ability — and capacity — to sustain its growth outside such revenues.  He also informed correspondents that Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tuvalu were among the other least developed countries that could soon be considered for graduation, but they all faced similar problems of small size and the possibility of not sustaining their positive growth trends over the long haul.


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For information media • not an official record