|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Support for Informal Sector in Least Developed Nations Crucial to Growing
National Economies, Thematic Debate Hears at Istanbul Conference
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
ISTANBUL, 9 May — While the private sector was the main force behind diversifying national economies and spurring integration into the global economy, in least developed countries, it was dominated by small and informal enterprises, making the creation of an enabling business environment essential for their advancement over the next decade, said participants in the first of six high-level thematic debates to be held during the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which opened today.
Addressing the interactive debate on “Enhancing productive capacities and the role of the private sector in LDCs”, General Assembly President Joseph Deiss said: “The best contribution that Governments can make to enhance productive capacities and the role of the private sector is to set the framework conditions and the incentives right.” He delivered one of two keynote speeches to top representatives of Government, the private sector, civil society and international organizations from around the world.
There was much to be done for the private sector to become the main driver of growth, Mr. Deiss stressed, as its activities were concentrated in extractive industries and commodities — which created few jobs and had only a few links with the rest of the economy. Domestic economies were dominated by small enterprises in the informal sector, which had limited access to financing and created poor quality jobs that lacked social protections.
A business climate conducive to private sector development should be encouraged, he said, underscoring that the rule of law and respect for both human rights and democracy must be strengthened, while the fight against corruption should be intensified. Inflation and public deficits should be kept in check and the bottlenecks that prevented producers from taking advantage of higher prices overcome. “High food prices should not be regarded as having only negative effects”; they were the simplest, most efficient means of increasing the quantities produced and compensating for food shortages. The issue of sustainability also must be taken into account by formalizing informal activities and moving towards low-carbon growth.
In the second keynote address, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said two issues were essential for least developed countries: enhancing productive capacities and improving human resources. To lift nations out of poverty, the main job was to produce more goods and services. “It is for this purpose that you need to improve human resources, ensure macroeconomic stability, move towards good governance and make progress on trade,” she said.
At the same time, resource transfer in the form of development assistance was still crucial to bridge the financing gap for development in poor nations, she said, noting that infrastructure bottlenecks were the greatest impediment to attracting investment. As such, the Istanbul programme of action must offer a structure for genuine collaboration between least developed countries and their partners, the core objective of which should be to promote the production of more goods and services in poor nations. That was the only way for them to graduate from their dismal economic status.
Joining the keynote speakers were nine expert panellists, including Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Kandeh K. Yumkellah, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Also participating were Juan Somavia, Executive Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Houlin Zhao, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Abdullah Çelik, Chief Executive Officer of Bank Asya of Turkey; Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Chair of the African Business Roundtable and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Business Group; and Roberto Bisso, Coordinator of the International Secretariat of Social Watch.
When the expert panellists took the floor, several underscored that while least developed countries in the last 10 years had grown at twice the speed they had in the previous two decades “nothing much else has changed”. They were still vulnerable to crisis, highly indebted and dependent on commodities trade, which one speaker noted had been the case for more than 2,000 years. “They’re still poor,” he stressed. Structural weakness could not be tackled by growth alone.
Various factors would influence a shift in how least developed countries were viewed, other panellists said, with one urging a move towards diversification and value-addition, especially through manufacturing. Donor assistance must prioritize structural change, which itself should be incentivized through trade, and specifically, by modifying rules of origin to allow countries to specialize in different parts of the value chain.
“We do not want to see Governments and States picking winners,” another panellist cautioned, noting that they should create the right market framework, institutions and training, as well as transfer the right kind of technologies so that innovations could be applied commercially. The private sector, for its part, should expand into higher value products, said another speaker, and take inspiration from new markets and consumers, as well as the informal sector. The race to the bottom, where wages and profits were squeezed to keep a comparative advantage, must be abandoned.
Pointing one way forward, another panellist noted that broadband was the next truly transformational technology, which, along with information and communications technology, was already facilitating progress in almost all trade sectors and underpinning long-term economic competitiveness.
In the ensuing dialogue, representatives of Government, the private sector and international economic organizations observed that capacity-building was also often an issue of nation-building, with one speaker underlining that too much focus had been placed on the formal rather than the informal sector, where development of infant industries was important. Others stressed the importance of building productive capacity in the agriculture sector.
Co-chairing the high-level interactive debate were Madické Niang, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Senegal and Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Deputy Minister of Development of Finland.
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