Preparatory Committee for Landlocked
Developing Countries Conference
3rd and 4th Meetings (AM & PM)
GEOGRAPHICAL BARRIERS TO DEVELOPMENT FOCUS OF PREPARATORY
COMMITTEE’S HIGH-LEVEL PANEL
Discussion Continues on Draft Conference Document
Addressing Needs of Landlocked Developing Countries
As the Committee charged with preparation for the first-ever United Nations Conference aimed at addressing the problems of landlocked developing countries continued its five-day session today, it held a high-level interactive panel discussion focusing on transit transport systems and the impact of geographical disadvantages on the socio-economic development of those countries.
The Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries and the Donor Community on Transit Transport will consider both organizational and substantive issues in laying the groundwork for the Conference, which will be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 28 to 29 August. Taking place at the ministerial level, the meeting is expected to negotiate systemic improvements for those countries through cooperation with transit nations, donors and multilateral agencies.
Opening today’s debate, keynote speaker Professor Jeffrey Sachs said that geographical barriers were at the core of the challenges faced by over 30 landlocked developing countries of the world. The Conference would play a very important role by addressing the problems of those countries, most of which could be solved through regional cooperation and international recognition of their special needs. Landlocked countries lacked access to the world market and, therefore, played little or no part in the engine of economic growth. Distance from major international markets, lack of access to seas, cumbersome transit procedures and inadequate transport infrastructure added costs to external trade transactions that sometimes exceeded the value of products themselves.
He pointed out that more than half of the world’s landlocked developing countries were also the least developed. Along with high transportation costs, those countries encountered problems that went “beyond the physical distance to that of political distance” as a result of antagonism and lack of cooperation between neighbouring States. Coastal economies sometimes actively hindered access of landlocked developing countries to ports.
Having worked in most landlocked countries, Professor Sachs stressed that instead of blaming impoverished landlocked developing countries for their lack of economic development or progress, the international community must help them address their constraints. That was central to poverty alleviation. Successful policies on landlocked countries would benefit both coastal and landlocked countries, entire regions, and make a reality of the Millennium Development Goals.
The discussion was moderated by the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and Secretary-General of the Conference, Anwarul K. Chowdhury. The panel included the Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Hafiz Pasha; World Bank’s Director-designate for Transport and Urban Development, Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard; and the Director of Infrastructure Development, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Amos Marawa.
Mr. Pasha reiterated that nine of the 12 countries with the lowest rankings in the 2002 Human Development Index were landlocked. Among the main problems encountered by countries without access to sea were delays at transit ports, impediments to exports and lack of agreement on which items should be considered for favourable treatment. Tackling those difficulties, it was important to focus on the development of adequate capacity at ports, as well as effective railroad and air transportation systems, both in transit countries and in landlocked States themselves.
Continuing, he said that special needs of landlocked countries were recognized in the Millennium Declaration, which urged both bilateral and multilateral donors to increase financial and technical assistance to landlocked developing countries. On its part, the UNDP had been providing significant support to those States, at both political and practical levels. For example, the UNDP was facilitating negotiations on transit trade between Mongolia, China and the Russian Federation. It was also helping landlocked countries to capitalize on some of the advantages they had. Generating hydroelectric power for export to India, Bhutan, for instance, had averaged a growth rate of some 7 per cent. Afghanistan was situated at the crossroads of trade, and it had a tremendous potential to act as a transit country for oil and gas pipelines.
Ms. Plessis-Fraissard said that the constraints encountered by landlocked countries could be best measured in their disproportionately high freight cost, hindering their competitiveness and access to markets. As a result of high costs, landlocked developing countries contributed with less then 0.5 per cent to international import and export trade. The World Bank intended to raise its level of investment in the infrastructure and transport questions, since the constraints faced by landlocked countries were part of the larger and very ambitious agenda of the World Bank to eradicate poverty. Concerning investment and funding, she pointed out that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative agreement stated that funding be used for the social sector. The World Bank had, therefore, faced difficulties in justifying funding for infrastructure.
Mr. Marawa emphasized a regional aspect of international efforts, saying that measures undertaken by COMESA in tackling the problems faced by landlocked developing countries centred on transport facilitation and infrastructure improvement. Despite the many facilitation programmes carried out by COMESA, improvements were still needed to make transport systems more effective and reliable. Donor support and foreign private sector investment was needed in the areas of infrastructure development; the establishment of transport corridor management institutions; the strengthening of regulatory enforcement; and capacity-building.
Among other issues that deserved attention of the international community, speakers in the ensuing interactive discussion highlighted developing countries’ external debt, building partnerships for infrastructure development, poverty eradication, private sector involvement, and landlocked countries’ efforts to attract foreign investment.
Stressing the importance of regional and subregional cooperation, speakers described various regional initiatives intended to achieve development and improve transport systems and infrastructure, in general. They also stressed the need to harmonize regional and international transit and customs procedures. It was pointed out that developing countries in Latin America alone had some $370 billion in external debt. The Rio Group had recently proposed creating a trust fund, which would refocus the financial flows for repayment of external debt and apply funds towards financing poor countries’ infrastructure.
The transportation sector was not specifically reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, another speaker said. However, growth was impossible without assessing and addressing the transport needs of the poorest countries, particularly landlocked ones. It was also pointed out that development would not be sustainable without roads, a healthy transport sector and power in the rural areas. The impact of political instability in transit countries on their landlocked neighbours also deserved attention. Several country representatives stressed that the needs of landlocked countries in Africa deserved particular attention.
On prioritization of development assistance, a country representative expressed concern that development partners only provided selective funding for specific projects. To that, Professor Sachs said that the poorest or the sickest should not be thrown overboard. Development assistance needed to be increased. Both at Monterrey and in Johannesburg, developed countries had undertaken obligations to provide increased financing towards achievement of Development Goals. It was important for them to honour those promises. Now, the issue was implementation, not commitment. “We cannot choose between the necessary investments -– we need to do more”, he said.
A question was raised regarding the World Bank’s reliance on the economic justification for investment in infrastructure. To that, Ms. Plessis-Fraissard replied that the Bank had been very stern on the issue of economic return on investment. However, in cooperation with social sectors, the Bank was approaching the point of also justifying investment on social and political grounds.
The issue of enforcing implementation of international agreements and decisions of international conferences and meetings was also raised. Mr. Marawa commented that non-implementation of conventions and transit instruments was of great concern to regional organizations. As it often resulted from individual States’ lack of capacity, those countries required international assistance to build their technical and infrastructure capacity.
Summarizing the discussion, Mr. Chowdhury said it had highlighted a number of both traditional and new dimensions of the landlocked countries’ situation, including management and maintenance of the infrastructure, funding, the impact of the security situation on the transportation of goods, and migration. These were important aspects that needed to be addressed by the Conference in Almaty, and the input of panellists and speakers would contribute to its outcome.
Also today at its afternoon session, the Preparatory Committee continued its chapter-by-chapter consideration of the draft outcome document of the Conference, which contains the main priorities facing the international community in addressing the needs of countries lacking access to seas, and proposes specific actions to address them. The priority areas include transit policy issues, infrastructure development, trade facilitation, international trade, international support measures and implementation and review issues. The afternoon was devoted to the review of the first three sections of the document: introduction, partnerships and objectives.
The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.
* *** *