2 October 2008
Press Conference

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

press conference on high-level meeting to review almaty programme of action

The high cost of international trade was a significant barrier to the full integration of landlocked developing countries into the world economy, continuing to hinder their trade and economic development, Special Adviser Cheick Sidi Diarra said today at Headquarters.

Speaking at a press conference on the occasion of the 2-3 October high-level meeting devoted to the midterm review of the Almaty Programme of Action, Mr. Diarra, Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said the priority areas of concern included:  the need to improve policies on customs and bureaucracy fees; infrastructure; improving trading opportunities; and increasing technical and financial international assistance.

He said that since the adoption of the Almaty Programme of Action five years ago, landlocked and transit developing countries had made tangible progress in implementing it.  With the recognition that high transit costs constituted a more important barrier for trade than tariffs, there had been a significant increase in official development assistance (ODA), from $10 billion in 2000 to $16 billion in 2006.  Moreover, foreign direct investment (FDI) had more than tripled over the last five years, from $3.9 billion to $14 billion, although it constituted just 0.8 per cent of global FDI, and flowed primarily to a few resource-rich and economically more advanced landlocked developing countries.

Pointing out that regional and subregional collaborations were among the success stories of the implementation process, he said Asian countries had concluded an intergovernmental agreement to construct an Asian highway, while African countries were strengthening efforts towards integrated infrastructure development and trade facilitation.  Landlocked developing countries also continued to increase the efficiency of their transit operations.  In 2007, they had spent only 49 days on export, down from 57 in 2006, and 56 days on import, down from 72.  The review meeting was calling for measures to deal with transit problems, including inadequate infrastructure, trade imbalance, inefficient transport organization, and weak managerial, procedural, regulatory and institutional systems.

Accompanying Mr. Diarra were Hachim Koumare from the Board of the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme, and Bernard Hoekstra, Director of the World Bank’s International Trade Department.

Mr. Koumare said the fact that some of the equipment used in Africa’s transport corridors was very old increased transportation costs, an aspect that should be factored into the Programme of Action.

Answering questions, Mr. Diarra said tourism had great potential for some landlocked countries, but tourism policies were developed mostly at the national and subregional levels.  West African countries, for instance, had developed a common policy on issuing entrance visas.

Mr. Hoekstra said World Bank assistance included developing tourism strategies, such as defining the tourism niche for a particular country, and addressing cross-border issues.

Mr. Koumare added that airline policies in Africa were among the constraints to tourism now being addressed through air-transport liberalization.

In response to another question, Mr. Diarra said development partners could offer cooperation in helping landlocked countries build both physical (roads, railways, airports) and non-physical (information and communication) infrastructures.  They could also render technical assistance in capacity-building for world trade, and support trade facilitation in order to alleviate cumbersome procedures for the export, import and transit of goods and services.  They could, in addition, simply provide market access.  Certain provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea applied to those landlocked countries that were party to it.  They were allowed free access to the ocean through certain corridors, but still had to agree bilaterally on access to harbours.

Describing the work of his Office, Mr. Diarra said it did not work at the operational level, but was active at the analytical and coordination levels of the United Nations system and the World Bank.  It carried out advocacy activities on the priority issues identified by the Almaty Programme of Action.  Because the Office had convening power, it was the only entity within the United Nations system that could coordinate the activities of all other entities with respect to landlocked developing countries.  It could also approach international financial institutions for project funding.

Responding to a question about the inclusion of South Ossetia in the group of landlocked developing countries, he said that was decided by the United Nations, which decided on the basis of certain criteria, and by the entity requesting inclusion in that category.  Austria and Switzerland, for instance, had never asked to be included.

In response to questions about Mongolia’s problems as a landlocked country, “sandwiched” between two big Powers, and how it could reduce its transportation costs, the Under-Secretary-General said 75 per cent of the problems of landlocked countries could be attributed to delays caused by cumbersome procedures, and only 25 per cent could be blamed on lack of infrastructure.  Mongolia should, therefore, take the necessary measures to make its procedures less cumbersome.

Mr. Hoekstra, on the other hand, pointed out that the 75-25 per cent ratio was a matter of ongoing debate.  The key to the whole issue was that changing policies demanded very little financial investment and generated, therefore, a great rate of return.  Mongolia spent 8 per cent of its gross domestic product on transit costs, but it could focus more on its function as a bridge between Asia and Europe.

Mr. Koumare, referring to an earlier question, added that some African countries had solved the question of access to the sea through the concept of “free zones” and “dry ports”, which had reduced transit time and given landlocked countries sea access.

Asked about corruption in transportation, Mr. Diarra said both the international and African anti-corruption conventions had entered into force, and aid donor countries had taken measures to ensure that investments were more transparent.

Mr. Hoekstra added that corruption in transportation was at the petty end of the spectrum, and did not contribute significantly to transport costs and delays.

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For information media • not an official record