Leaving the LDCs category: Booming Bangladesh prepares to graduate

Propelled by better health and education, lower vulnerability and an economic boom, Bangladesh, the largest least developed country (LDC) in terms of population and economic size, looks likely to leave the LDC category by 2024. For the first time, the country is expected to meet the three criteria for graduation when the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) convenes at UN Headquarters in New York for its review on 12-16 March 2018.

“Bangladesh has seen broad-based gains in health, education, infant mortality and life expectancy,” said Daniel Gay, LDC expert in UN DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division. “These have in turn driven economic growth, and latterly reduced economic vulnerability, so it’s really a success story.”

Every three years, the CDP, which comprises 24 independent development experts from around the world review the list of LDCs, based on a rigorous methodology using a wide range of sustainable development indicators.

The CDP measures the LDC category on the basis of per capita income, a human assets index and an economic vulnerability index. A country must exceed thresholds on two of the three criteria at two consecutive triennial reviews to be considered for graduation. Up to now, no country has managed to meet all three criteria.

“We have been achieving robust economic growth for the last number of years — over 6 per cent — and also pursuing a policy of inclusive growth”, said Masud Bin Momen, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN, as he commented on the country’s success. He also stressed that growth has involved all sectors of society “…especially women’s economic empowerment and gender mainstreaming.”

Since 1996, the per capita gross national income in Bangladesh has outstripped the LDC average and has recently risen above the threshold used by the CDP. The economy has developed largely through textile and garment exports. Remittances, natural gas, shipbuilding and seafood, as well as information communications and pharmaceuticals are all emerging sources of foreign exchange and economic growth.

This economic boom has helped people living in poverty. Since 1990 about 50 million people left extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank, a reduction in the poverty rate from 40 per cent to 14 per cent. Bangladesh’s thriving non-government organizations have also helped provide vital health and education services to the poor, translating into rapid improvements in the human assets index used by the CDP.

Increases across the five components of the human assets index – infant mortality, maternal mortality, undernourishment, adult schooling and adult literacy – meant that Bangladesh exceeded the threshold on this index for the first time in 2016.

Bangladesh is also unusual in that it has enjoyed a reduction in economic vulnerability. The economic vulnerability index has consistently decreased since 2003, the first year it fell below the CDP’s official threshold, partly due to greater export stability and diversification.

Ambassador Momen described the role of the United Nations as an important partner in the country’s development efforts. “They have been providing consistent support in capacity-building and by undertaking various projects, and also helped in the build-up of our technical capacity in various social sectors,” Mr. Momen said.

Bangladesh’s graduation will have implications for the economy, although many of the main stakeholders – including the government and private sector – believe that graduation would be a major step forward in the country’s history and therefore an event to be welcomed.

“All of this is very much part of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, said Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Director of the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), adding that the graduation from the LDC category is an important part of the efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the triennial review, the CDP not only reviews the data for all developing countries to identify countries that meet the LDC criteria for inclusion or graduation. A main focus will be to decide whether or not countries that meet the graduation criteria for the second consecutive time should be recommended for graduation, paving the way for them to leave the category in the near future.

This time, the CDP will make decisions on more countries than ever before, including on Bhutan, Kiribati, Nepal, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Booming Bangladesh, a country preparing to leave the LDC category, is a success story likely to inspire others.

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