Twelve Least Developed Countries on Path to Graduation Reflects Significant Development Progress – Despite Ongoing Setbacks

NEW YORK 12 October 2020 – The Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) set an ambitious goal to see half of the LDCs graduate from the category during its period of implementation of 2011-2020. Though that target has not been met, progress made by several LDCs has led to a record number meeting the graduation criteria.  

The United Nations Committee for Development Policy (CDP) reviews the Least Developed Country (LDC) Category every three years to monitor member countries’ progress against measurements of income, human assets and vulnerability.  

At present,twelve countries out of 47 are on, or about to join, the path to graduation.This is a positive development reflecting significant progress in the past number of years, especially when compared to previous decades.  

Graduation from the LDC category marks an important milestone in the development path of each LDC. However, the phasing-out of international support measures associated with LDC status could present challenges for graduating countries in their efforts to further integrate into the global economy. 

This December, Vanuatu will graduate, followed by Angola in early 2021. Bhutan is scheduled to graduate in 2023 and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Solomon Islands the following year.  

In February 2021, the CDP is expected to hold its triennial review of the LDC category. Lao PDR, Bangladesh and Myanmar, depending on their performance on the LDC criteria and other aspects of their development trends, could be recommended for graduation.  

The potential eligibility of Nepal, Timor-Leste, Kiribati and Tuvalu for graduation will also be reconsidered in 2021. 

However, the 2021 triennial review will be held against the backdrop of one of the worse global multifaceted crises in the history of the United Nations.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought devastating social and economic consequences, including on global trade and tourism, key sectors for many LDC economies.  It is now threatening to roll back progress made by a growing number of LDCs on the path to graduation.  

Strong support from development and trading partners has never been more urgently needed. 

For graduating LDCs, the commitment to recover and Build Back Better along a sustainable graduation path has been remarkable. UN System support of these efforts, on the ground and at Headquarter level, has been a lifeline for many. 

Graduation from the category continues to be a high-priority development objective for LDCs but it brings important challenges.  

Ensuring a smooth graduation requires appropriate management of a transition away from LDC-specific support measures, including preferential market access for exports and access to some concessional financing instruments.  

Graduating countries must also juggle other development objectives, including economic diversification, enhanced international value chain participation, and making productivity improvements. The impact of COVID-19 has added another layer of complexity to the task.  

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on graduation support established by OHRLLS in 2017 brings all entities involved, UN and otherwise, to the same table. Together, they formulate a common programme of assistance to help smoothen transitions and better coordinate the UN System-wide support for graduation.  

For example, the IATF has been collaborating with the United Nations Resident Coordinators for Lao PDR, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and São Tomé and Príncipe to funnel support from all parts of the international system in the wake of COVID-19.  

In September, the first in a series of virtual sessions on graduation implications for Lao PDR was held in collaboration with the government , the UN Resident Coordinator and the Task Force, represented by OHRLLS, DESA, UNCTAD and ESCAP

More virtual sessions are planned to look at the trade and development finance implications of graduation, helping the Lao PDR prepare their own transition strategy as part of its national development plan. 

In October and November, the Task Force will virtually host UN Resident Coordinators for Solomon Islands and São Tomé and Príncipe to help guide each country’s recovery and graduation plans.