ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL REVIEWS EFFORTS TO STEM POVERTY IN 50 POOREST NATIONS

17 February 2004
ECOSOC/6102

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL REVIEWS EFFORTS TO STEM POVERTY IN 50 POOREST NATIONS

17/02/2004
Press Release
ECOSOC/6102


Economic and Social Council                                

Preparatory Meeting for                                    

 High-Level Segment


ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL REVIEWS EFFORTS TO STEM POVERTY IN 50 POOREST NATIONS


Day-Long Meeting Preparation for Council’s High-Level Segment 28 – 30 June


The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today gathered top United Nations officials, donors and heads of international institutions to examine worldwide efforts to lift the 50 poorest nations –- home to 720 million people -- out of poverty and instability.


During a day-long meeting in preparation for its high-level segment, set for 28 to 30 June, the Council reviewed progress made in mobilizing resources for poverty eradication in the least developed countries since adoption of an action plan in Brussels in 2001.


The Brussels Programme of Action, a set of key commitments for implementing the Millennium Development Goals, includes seven specific commitments made by the least developed countries and their development partners, including mobilization of financial resources as well as governance, trade and sustainable development.


Marjatta Rasi of Finland, the first woman to ever head the 54-member Council, stressed that stemming the tide of poverty for least developed countries would ultimately depend on renewed efforts at the national, regional and global levels, based on the spirit of shared responsibility and global partnership forged at Brussels.


Setting the stage for the three high-level round table discussions that followed, she challenged the participants to look seriously at a number of important issues, chiefly how existing tools and frameworks could be better used to mobilize more resources for development and improving institutions and the policy environment.  Also, how official development assistance (ODA) could be better utilized, and harmonized, to enhance pro-poor policies and accelerate progress towards poverty eradication and sustainable development. 


In opening remarks, Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs said that, despite the best efforts made by the countries themselves and the international community, most least developed countries remained at “the bottom rung” of the development ladder and were in serious danger of falling short of the Millennium Development Goals and the Brussels action plan.  Many were also struggling with huge debt, and despite the positive aspects of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative, there was still serious doubt that they could reach sustainability.


Market inconsistencies and commodity price variance also posed a problem, he continued.  And while strenuous efforts were underway to augment external finances for the least developed countries, current conditions were such that many could not attract investors and had to depend almost entirely on waning ODA.  He suggested that to help those countries escape the poverty trap, proposals to link debt service payments to commodity pricing might also be considered.  He added that there was also a need to promote trade, as well as ensure duty- and quota-free access for exports, which currently were subject to protection and subsidized competition.


Highlighting some recent development achievements made by least developed countries, Donald Kaberuka, Minister of Finance of Rwanda, in his introductory statement said measures were being taken to reduce budget deficits and increase transparency to mobilize domestic resources.  But, developing countries still needed to create favourable conditions for development and redouble efforts to mobilize resources at the national level.  As for external financing, the level and quality of aid and global coherence of external support were the main issues. 


Among the main challenges, he mentioned the need to widen the tax base in the developing world, saying that in many poor countries agriculture represented the main sector and the informal sector remained significant.  Also important were the issues of harmonization and reducing transaction costs.  Now, it was necessary to move from pledges to actions and focus on how to best mobilize the domestic and external funds, he added. 


Keynote addresses on the theme of the high-level segment were also made by Carlos Magariños, Director-General of United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Raghuram G. Rajan, Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Jean-Louis Sarbib, World Bank’s Senior Vice-President for Human Development; Zephrin Diabre, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Carlos Fortin, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


The first two round tables, held in the morning, examined, respectively, national and international aspects of resource mobilization in order to create an enabling environment for poverty eradication in the context of the implementation of the Brussels action plan.


Summing up the panel on national resource mobilization, which was co-chaired by Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, along with Mr. Kaberuka, Mr. Gambari said that many speakers had stressed the need for more transparency in policy-making and, at the national level, to seriously address the issues of corruption.  Promoting policies that expanded the tax base was also emphasized, as was the critical importance of reducing both the risk and cost of doing business in developing countries.  Participants concluded that while domestic resources mobilization was certainly necessary, it was not sufficient to generate the critical mass needed for least developed countries to meet the goals set out at Brussels.  Domestic resources, therefore, needed to be joined with international efforts.


The panel on international resources towards fulfilling the commitments made at Copenhagen was co-chaired by Jean de Ruyt (Belgium) and Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.  Giving the highlights of that discussion, Mr. Ruyt said the panel had stressed that there was a lack of financial resources currently available for developing countries to reach the Millennium Development Goals.  They also stressed the quality of international assistance and that official development assistance (ODA) should lead to capacity-building and promote sustainable development.  Speakers had stressed that resource mobilization should be flexible and should focus on foreign direct investment.  Debt reduction was also an essential element of the discussion, as was the need to open up market access for developing countries.


The afternoon session featured a round table with Executive Secretaries of the regional commissions and representatives of regional development banks, which was chaired by Joel Adechi (Benin), Chairman of the Group of Least Developed Countries, and Kim Hak-Su, Executive Director of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). 


Mr. Kim said that the panelists welcomed the focus on regional aspects, since many least developed countries suffered from geographical or other handicaps.  With regard to macroeconomic policies and an institutional framework, the panel stressed pro-poor polices to reverse poverty.  Since aid alone could not address the situation, policy coherence at national and regional levels was necessary.  He added that migration and trade policies must also be mutually coherent in order to ensure that neighbouring countries were better able to reach their regional and individual development goals.  Emphasis should also be placed on civil society and the private sector.


The Economic and Social Council will convene the next preparatory meeting for its high-level segment on 17 and 18 March.


Opening Remarks


In her welcoming remarks, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), MARJATTA RASI (Finland), stressed the need to address the broad issues of poverty, the core of the work of the United Nations and ECOSOC, resources that were critical for development, and the policy environment that could be enhanced with the national and international partners.  The ECOSOC once more provided an opportunity for policy-makers, governments, civil society and business sector representatives, international organizations and regional institutions to assess progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action, identify existing obstacles and constraints and actions required to overcome them.


Regarding the Brussels Programme, she said:  “It is a comprehensive programme, indeed, and we need to keep all partners mobilized to attain the goals set forth.”  As pointed out by the Secretary-General in his first progress report on the implementation of the Programme, the three major challenges facing least developed countries were development of sufficient national capacities to implement the Programme, the cost associated with it and ensuring its full ownership by all.  Poverty eradication in least developed countries would ultimately depend on renewed efforts at the national, regional and global levels, based on the spirit of shared responsibility and global partnership forged at Brussels and in other international conferences. 


Among the main questions addressed by the meeting, she listed the following:  Are policies becoming more pro-poor and more focused towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals?  How can existing tools and frameworks be better used to mobilize more resources for development and improving the institutions and the policy environment?  How can official development assistance (ODA) be better utilized -– and harmonized –- to enhance pro-poor policies and accelerate progress towards poverty eradication and sustainable development?  And how can other development resources be more geared towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals?


JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that this year the Council was set to consider the problems of 49 countries at the lowest rung of the development ladder.  Despite the best efforts made by the countries themselves and the international community, most least developed countries were in serious danger of falling short of the Millennium Development Goals and the Brussels Programme of Action.  Indeed, in many small countries, the obstacles to providing public services and human resources were very serious.  That was exacerbated by the fact that most least developed countries were labouring under a staggering debt burden, and despite the positive aspects of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative, there was still serious doubt that the least developed countries could reach sustainability.


Further, market inconsistencies and commodity price variance also posed a problem for the least developed countries he continued.  Donors should also ensure that the volume of aid and did not result in commodity price volatility.  Proposals to link debt service payments to commodity pricing might also be considered.  He added that, while strenuous efforts were underway to augment external finances for the least developed countries, current conditions were such that many could not attract investors and had to depend almost entirely on waning ODA.


Meeting the commitments made at Monterrey would prove instrumental in unlocking the poverty trap, he said.  There was also a need to promote trade, as well as ensure duty- and quota-free access for exports, which currently were subject to protection and subsidized competition.  Removal of all tariffs should be the international community’s goal.  Agriculture remained the key economic sector in most least developed countries, employing more than 75 per cent of respective populations.  Efforts should, therefore, be made to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure.  Under the Brussels Programme of Action, that meant improving access to land, credit, and insurance, as well as opening market channels.  He added that there was also a need to ensure that poverty reduction strategies went hand in hand with efforts to maintain peace and security.


DONALD KABERUKA, Minister of Finance of Rwanda, said that while progress had been achieved by both developing countries and their partners since the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, a number of real challenges remained.  Recent achievements included increased development efforts, and measures were being taken to reduce budget deficits and increase transparency to mobilize domestic resources.  The developing countries needed to create favourable conditions for development and redouble efforts to mobilize resources at the national level.  As for external financing, the level and quality of aid and global coherence of external support were the main issues. 


Among the main challenges, he also mentioned the need to widen the tax base, saying that in many poor countries agriculture represented the main sector and the informal sector remained significant.  Least developed countries were not attracting sufficient foreign investment.  Now, it was necessary to move from pledges to actions and focus on how to best mobilize the domestic and external funds.  Also important were the issues of harmonization and reducing transaction costs.  Following a disappointment in Cancun, the coherence of aid and trade issues needed to be addressed. 


CARLOS MAGARINOS, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said that, as many international development goals were in danger of being missed, his agency was concerned about the prospects for the least developed countries.  He noted that shortly after Brussels the tragic 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States had drawn the world’s attention to eradicating terrorism and stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction.  But, the progress made on the fight against poverty was now claiming international attention.


Highlighting the reports of various United Nations agencies, he stressed that in many countries the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 was in danger of not being met.  Hunger had been on the rise, and political crises in many of the least developed countries accounted for much of that.  Sub-Saharan Africa was also struggling with poverty eradication as well as child and maternal mortality rates.  He added that per capita growth for 30 sub-Saharan countries had been stagnant for the last three decades.  So there was a need to work for three types of transition in the least developed countries:  human capital transition; productivity transition; and environmental.  There was also a need to promote systemic changes at the international level, as well as enhanced trade access and transfer of technologies.  A massive investment in the infrastructure and social services in poor countries was also crucial.


RAGURAM G. RAJAN, Chief Economist, International Monetary Fund (IMF), said resources were part of the solution, but certainly not the entire picture.  Studies had shown that good polices should be in place to ensure beneficial use of those resources.  But, there was the emerging view that, deeper than resources and deeper than good policy, solid institutions must be developed.  Studies had shown that countries with better institutions tended to have higher levels of gross domestic product (GDP).  That notion, however, had opened up other questions, like how to develop such institutions and how to change political consensus within countries to empower people.


He went on to say that financial institutions could play an important role in that regard.  The IMF was playing that role, namely through poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), incorporating wide-ranging negotiations and dialogue between governments and civil society.  But, he added, it was also necessary to undertake a programme of outreach, not just to governments and non-governmental organizations, but to the people and local communities.  He urged all international actors to support the things that could lead to stronger institutions, chiefly by expanding access to education, land, health and finance.  There was also a need to target the middle class; often overlooked, as most strategies only targeted the poorest of the poor.


JEAN-LOUIS SARBIB, World Bank’s Senior Vice-President for Human Development, said the Bank was committed to putting people first to ensure economic growth and social progress for all.  Human development was driven by the Brussels agenda, the Millennium Development Goals and the international community’s firm commitment to helping countries reduce poverty.  Linking investments in basic service sectors and poverty reduction, he said that low income was but one aspect of poverty reduction.  It was also important to empower people by raising education, improving health and equipping the poor to achieve a higher income.  The goal, thus, was to break the cycle of poverty through education, health, and improving people’s well being.


That represented a major aspect of the Bank’s work, he continued.  Increasingly, people-centred policies took centre stage in its work.  It was necessary to mobilize resources, ensure efficiency of expenditures and address the issues of aid, trade and debt.  Once resources had been mobilized, it was necessary to distribute them in an equitable way.  And finally, it was important to build institutions, ensure accountability and measure results. 


While some of the goals before the international community were unlikely to be met (for example child mortality goals, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa), the World Bank was contributing to their implementation, he said.  For instance, it was participating in an initiative to accelerate the achievement of the goal towards universal achievement of primary education.  Analysis of the Millennium Development Goals had highlighted a number of cross-cutting issues, including institution-building and measuring results.  Proper incentives were also of great importance.  Results needed to be evaluated and measured on the basis of good data.  In short, a results-based culture was needed.  Monitoring and evaluation were not well developed in social sectors.  The link between development and peace should not be forgotten.


ZEPHRIN DIABRE, Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the Millennium Development Goals had given the UNDP an important guide for action.  The Millennium Project Teams were trying to establish the strategic costs of the efforts in partnership with the IMF, the World Bank and other international agencies.  Following the Brussels Conference, the funds and programmes had adopted its commitments as guidance for action.  The focus on resources and growth was essential. 


Among the issues addressed in Brussels, he reaffirmed the importance of good governance and resource mobilization.  Providing support for least developed countries in accessing the private sector was important.  Efforts were under way to help African countries develop their markets.  With the help from the UNDP, free credit lines were being offered to some of the least developed countries.  Strong national institutions and a fair legal system were needed for least developed countries to attract foreign investments.


CARLOS FORTIN, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), on behalf of Rubens Ricupero, UNCTAD Secretary-General, said that due in large part to positive policy efforts and other internal reforms, least developed countries had grown faster than they had in the past.  Still, overall international developments were in danger of being missed.  If that were to happen, the international community would fail in one of its most important and urgent tasks.  Poverty reduction remained the key challenge.


But, redistribution of resources was not the sole answer, he said.  There was also the need to increase the level of resources as well as economic activity and productivity.  Still, within the time guidelines set out in the Millennium Development Goals, providing a massive influx of resources would give the least developed countries the opportunity to rehabilitate their infrastructures, improve social services and achieve longer-term development.  He added that there was a need to introduce the concept of “aid for trade” and “investment for trade”, which would allow the least developed countries to take advantage of market access and improve their efforts to generate their own resources.


Round Table A -- Mobilizing Domestic Resources


The round table on mobilizing domestic resources, capacity-building and national policy measures was co-chaired by Donald Kaberuka, Minister of Finance of Rwanda and Ibrahim A. Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa.


The panelists included:  Jean-Louis Sarbib, Senior Vice-President for Human Development, World Bank; Zéphrin Diabre, Associate Administrator, UNDP; Henriette Keijzers, Officer-in-Charge, United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF); Imelda Henkin, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Abel Rwendeire, Managing Director, Programme Development and Technical Cooperation Division, UNIDO; Elliott Harris, Adviser, Policy Development and Review Department, IMF; Kees Van der Ree, Acting Director, InFocus Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO); Elizabeth Gibbons, Chief, Global Policy Section, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Viviane Launay, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) representative to the United Nations; Arjun Karki, LDC Watch; and representatives of Member States.


In his opening statement, Mr. Gambari stressed the prominence of the theme of today’s discussion for the least developed countries, particularly to Africa, where 34 of the 50 least developed countries were located.  Mobilization of financial resources was commitment 7 of the Brussels Programme of Action, which placed great emphasis on the notion of “deliverables” -– concrete measures and actions.


Now was a timely and opportune moment to examine the progress made in the interrelated issues of resource mobilization and capacity-building, he said.  Continuity at the domestic and international levels, reform of the private sector, economic and corporate governance and external debt were among the main problems that needed to be addressed.


Mr. Kaberuka introduced the issues of reliability and long-term sustainability of resources.  One of the main challenges in least developed countries was that it was possible to improve the efficiency only to a certain point, beyond which modernization and expansion of the tax base were needed.  In institution building, capacity was a real problem, and in many cases, least developed countries opted for importing capacity from abroad.  Among the main issues before the panel, he drew attention to the need for reducing the risks of doing business in least developed countries; the cost of doing business; and widening the economy.  Access to external markets, coherence of international efforts and development of mechanisms to allow the poorest countries’ voices to be heard in the international economic system were all important.


In that connection, several speakers highlighted the need to introduce sound monetary and fiscal policies, including measures to reduce inflation and encourage savings.  In least developed countries, where up to 75 per cent of the population lived in rural areas and relied on agriculture, capacity-building and sustainable use of resources were of great importance.  Transfer of technology and access to information added value to local resources.  Incentives for investment, including rebates on taxation and allowances, were also important. 


At the same time, it was pointed out that certain domestic policies continued to depend on the level of official development assistance received by poor countries.  A predictable and sustainable level of external assistance was needed for the least developed countries to be able to introduce many programmes, including those to prevent the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  The HIPC Initiative needed to be further refined and adapted to the reality on the ground.  Debt servicing posed a major challenge to domestic resource mobilization, for it left fewer resources for investment in national infrastructure for poverty eradication.


Other lay issues addressed in the debate included lessons learned by least developed countries from other developing countries; development of domestic capital markets; micro-credit programmes; the role of central government versus local authorities in the management of resources; improvement of national capacity; and the means of maximizing domestic economy and development of pro-private-sector policies, including measures to strengthen the legal base for small-scale enterprise. 


Many speakers stressed the need to increase the tax base in least developed countries, saying that in many of those countries the people were so poor that they could not pay taxes.  Thus, increasing the tax base meant increasing the number of people who could pay taxes.  The instruments to address that issue included assistance, education, improved access to markets and creation of job opportunities.  The costs and benefits of formalizing the taxation system needed to be taken into account, as well.  The tax systems needed to be perceived as fair by the population.


Also highlighted in the debate was the importance of improving efficiency, addressing corruption and ensuring accountability to make the best use of limited resources.  As an example, one of the speakers referred to great improvements achieved as a result of expenditure tracking in several countries, including Uganda, where as little as 13 cents out of each dollar spent on education had previously reached the schools.  Such simple measures as publicizing what the schools were getting and putting the parents in charge allowed the country to achieve better results with the same volume of resources.  Thus, when providing subsidies, it was also important to ensure service delivery.


Round Table B -- Mobilizing External Resources


The round table on mobilizing external resources was chaired by Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and SmallIslandDevelopingStates, and Jean de Ruyt (Belgium). 


The participants included:  Michael Klein, Vice-President for Private Sector Development and Chief Economist, International Finance Corporation, Habib Ouane, Head of UNCTAD’s Special Programme for the Least Developed, Landlocked and Small Island Developing Countries, Melinda Kimble, Senior Vice-President of the United Nations Foundation, Paul Underwood, Executive Director, Business Council for the United Nations, and Maria Otero, Chief Executive Officer of Accion International.


Opening the dialogue, Mr. Klein said that there was ample reason to be concerned but no reason for despair.  He recalled that the situation throughout the Asian region at the first half of century had been worse than Africa’s situation over the past 30 years.  Asia had relied on the energies of its own people to create business opportunities that “brought money in and kept it in”.  That was what drove the process, not financial assistance alone.  Drawing attention to the so-called “smart subsidies”, which fundamentally empowered people to do business, generate incomes, pay taxes and, importantly, attract investors and ensure long-term development, he said such subsidies also enhanced purchasing power without undermining market policies that were already in place.


Participants stressed that donors, international financial institutions and local communities themselves must start thinking beyond official development assistance.  Clearly, resources were not enough -- it was time to work together to find ways to enhance regulatory frameworks, rehabilitate institutions, spur foreign investment and channel desperately needed funds in the right direction.


The experts also stressed a more global approach to looking at business opportunities and the role of international institutions in that process.  At the national level, micro-finance initiatives were highlighted as an effective way to not only deliver effective services to the poor, but to also provide credit to help them improve their own situations.  Human resource development was critical.  Another panelist stressed the need to create public/private partnerships, noting that civic action could generate the momentum on the ground to change public attitudes, private institutions could bring know-how and expertise, and private philanthropy could help expedite or set in motion any initiatives that were created.


Another said that achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and indeed the maintenance of peace and security, would only be possible if States were increasingly led by stable democratic governments that provided for the fundamental needs of their citizens.  The ECOSOC and the wider United Nations system should support and offer assistance to bolster good governance, as well as foster a better understanding of the links between development and overall peace and security.  That could strengthen donor motivation by conceptualizing a mutual benefit, rather than simply a help to others. 


One speaker said that the notion of being “concerned but not despairing” about the situation of the world’s poorest countries and people’s depended on ones point of view.  Indeed, millions and millions of people living on $1 a day –- in despair -- was a great cause for concern.  Current market instabilities and lack of access to international markets, which undermined social policy and institutional reform in many of those countries was, again, a cause for serious concern.


Likening obstructionist trade policies and some subsidies to “weapons of mass destruction”, he appealed to all the participants to focus on ways to turn this around.  Other delegations echoed that sentiment, stressing that it was impossible to escape the fact that least developed countries faced a resource gap that domestic activities alone could not bridge.  The international community must begin an honest discussion of ways to stimulate the developed countries to make additional efforts in terms of official development assistance (ODA).


Round Table C -- Regional Dimension of Resources Mobilization


The round table was chaired by Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Kim Hak-Su, and moderated by Mervat Tallawy, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA),and current Coordinator of the regional commissions.


The panelists included:  Brigita Schmõgnerová, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); José Luis Machinea, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Siddig Abdelmageed Salih, Chief of Economic Policy Division, Economic Policy and Strategic Planning Department, Islamic Development Bank; Carlos Eduardo Vélez, Chief, Poverty and Inequality Unit, Inter-American Development Bank; and representatives of Member States.


Noting that partnership was an integral component of the Brussels Programme of Action, participants in the interactive discussion pointed out that most least developed countries possessed neither the requisite national capacity, nor the resources to reach the targets set out in various frameworks and programmes.  Although those countries held the primary responsibility for their own development strategies, it was through genuine partnerships –- including with regional organizations, civil society and the private sector -- that significant gains could be realized. 


Macroeconomic policies, institutional frameworks, ODA and progress towards achieving self-reliance were addressed in the debate, as well as the role of the regional and subregional organizations in that respect.  Speakers agreed that regional cooperation required policy coherence and appropriate modalities for its delivery. 


Mr. Kim said that the macroeconomic policies of neighbouring countries significantly affected the relatively small economies of the least developed countries.  With the increase in economic integration, coordination of macroeconomic policy goals, synchronization of fiscal and monetary policies and stabilization of exchange rates through formal cooperation assumed importance.  Effective utilization of external resources resulting from close partnerships, which promoted ownership by the recipients, was as important as the issue of overall quantity of aid.


With economic diversification and market access, trade could become an important tool in least developed countries’ development, he added.  Policy dialogue, training and sharing of expertise were essential in order to strengthen the development dimension of the Doha-mandated negotiations.  Issues that deserved attention included national ownership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) accession process.  Since a viable export sector required development of the private sector, it was important to consider policy intervention to ensure a regional inflow of investment and technology transfer.  Reduction and elimination of tariffs and subsidies in agricultural and other products at the regional level must lead to meaningful results. 


Several speakers agreed that most least developed countries experienced great difficulty in coping with the demands from various partners that had an impact on the market access and transaction costs.  In that connection, it was pointed out that reduction of tariffs and conditionalities could produce substantial results. 


Regarding Africa, where most least developed countries (34) are situated, speakers said that a critical but often neglected aspect that the continent was addressing was mutual accountability, as well as harmonization and alignment of policies and international support programmes.  For too long the focus had been exclusively on the least developed countries’ policies, but their partners’ policies and preferences also played an important role.  One speaker said that the principle of mutual accountability was enshrined in the Monterrey consensus at the international level and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) at the regional level. 


Speakers pointed out that both least developed countries and their partners had specific responsibilities under the Brussels Programme, and implementation of individual commitments was of utmost importance.  While the least developed countries were implementing their share of the burden, support from the international community was required in the areas of trade, market access, debt and aid.  Many least developed countries needed to increase their product capacity and product diversification.  An enabling environment for poverty reduction required changed behaviour both on behalf of the donors and the least developed countries themselves, requiring medium- and long-term approaches, strengthened local capacity and sustainable assistance.  Also stressed was the need to examine new means of mobilizing resources for poverty alleviation. 


In that connection, it was noted that of the 41 least developed countries for which data were available, 15 had recorded a fall in the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002.  According to the United Nations World Economic and Social Survey, only seven least developed countries (five fewer than in 2001) had achieved growth in their per capita GDP exceeding 3 per cent in 2002.  Development partners and financial institutions needed to support focused public policies to address the problem of poverty.


Encouraged to increase their financial and technical support to least developed countries, representatives of regional development banks, commissions and organizations described their efforts to create new trade and business opportunities, provide concessional loans, and increase financing in the framework of NEPAD and HIPC-related assistance.


Closing Statement


Summarizing the proceedings following the reports by the chairpersons of the roundtables, the President of the Council, Ms. Rasi (Finland), said that the meeting had been very productive.  It had provided a unique platform for an exchange of views and sharing on experiences as far as initiatives on a broad range of issues were concerned.  Representatives of least developed countries and various relevant stakeholders provided important input on the means of resource mobilization to stem poverty and instability in the least developed countries.  A clear message was that with current trends, the Millennium Development Goals would not be met in many least developed countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa.  International assistance was needed to help those countries achieve their development goals.


While the least developed countries held primary responsibility for shaping their policies, one could not underestimate the importance of external resources, ODA and foreign direct investments, she said.  The participants had identified the main challenges and obstacles, as well as the means of overcoming them.  A comprehensive response was needed to address the topic of the high-level segment of ECOSOC.  Many speakers had referred to the implementation of the Monterrey consensus and pointed out opportunities and requirements for the public sector.  Input of the international agencies had been particularly encouraging. 


Several critical concepts had been introduced in the debate as speakers referred to the need to include least developed countries in international trade arrangements.  Also highlighted in the debate was the human capital aspect.  In the efforts to overcome poverty, it was important to provide prospects to the young generation and empower the population.  Building institutions was among the key issues raised in the course of deliberations.  Development in the context of the Brussels Programme of Action had been emphasized, as well as the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals as a common framework.  Of crucial importance was the strengthening of the financial sector.  As pointed out by participants, peace and security were the needed prerequisites for development.  Sharing of best practices and understanding of lessons learned needed to be emphasized.


Thanking all the speakers for their input, she concluded that ECOSOC, with involvement of international financial institutions and other organizations, should encourage the least developed countries to build their capacity and use all available resources to achieve sustainable development.


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For information media. Not an official record.