18 March 2004


Press Release

Economic and Social Council                                

Preparatory Meeting for                                    

 High-Level Segment



The Economic and Social Council this morning concluded a two-day meeting in preparation for the high-level segment of its June Session, which will focus on worldwide efforts to lift the world’s 50 poorest nations out of poverty and instability.

Set for 28 to 30 June, the high-level event will be devoted to the theme of resource mobilization and the need to create an enabling environment for poverty eradication, in the context of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, adopted in Brussels in 2001.

A set of key commitments for the development of least developed countries, the Programme includes seven specific pledges by the LDCs and their development partners for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in those countries, including mobilization of financial resources, governance, trade and sustainable development.

Opening today’s session, Ibrahim A. Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, said the discussion today and at the High-Level Segment itself would provide a unique opportunity for the international community and the LDCs themselves to reaffirm their commitment and, more importantly, to redouble their efforts to achieve the goals of the Brussels Programme.  Inaction or complacency would exact high and painful costs not only in terms of increased hunger and poverty, increased infant and maternal mortality and rising level of illiteracy, but also in the festering of political turmoil and instability.  If tackled effectively and courageously, the problems could be solved, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had emerged as a good example in that respect.

Another speaker, Eveline Herfkens, Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Developments Goal Campaign, said that the LDCs were “wildly off track” in terms of achieving the Goals and time was fast running out.  The Brussels Programme was very good, and if participants at the Conference had adhered to their commitments, the world would now be a beautiful place.  Actually, while poor countries had made many reforms, the rich countries were lagging behind.  It was really important to have vigorous monitoring of the implementation of the Goals and to translate commitments into action.  The Doha agenda needed to be put back on track, and market access and debt issues needed to be examined.

Opening statements were also made by Joao Jose Silva Monteiro, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Guinea-Bissau and Seraphine Wakana, Minister for Planning, Development and Reconstruction of Burundi, who outlined their countries’ experiences and identified lessons and best practices in addressing the obstacles faced by least developed countries.

During two simultaneous round tables that followed the opening of the meeting, the participants of the event focused on the efforts to address the problems of least developed countries emerging from conflict and discussed trade and market access preferences, reviewing the commitments, achievements, challenges and prospects in that respect.

Summarizing the outcome of first round table, its co-chair, Joao Jose Silva Monteiro, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Guinea-Bissau, said speakers had underscored the specific needs facing post-conflict countries, in particular the social costs of conflict.  The transitional period, in particular the post-election phase, was delicate and the international community had to ensure that post-conflict countries could support peace.  Conditionalities impeded the impact of international efforts.  There had been a proposal to create a special fund to deliver aid to post-conflict countries.  The long-term commitment of donors was also stressed during the discussion.  Post-conflict development should be accompanied by rapid impact projects.

Presenting the results of the round table on trade and market access, one of its co-chairs, Tertius Zongo of Burkina Faso, said that the strategies to combat poverty needed to include the issues of commodity exports and barriers to market access for LDCs.  Among the issues discussed today were major preferential initiatives, job creation, subsidies in developed countries, existing distortions and capacity-building.  The exchange of views demonstrated that more needed to be done to take advantage of the available opportunities.  The approach proposed was based on application of market rules and awareness that LDCs had competitiveness in certain areas, including cotton and development of strategic commodities.

An afternoon panel discussion was devoted to Non-Governmental Organization Fund Development, and an NGO/Civil Society Forum discussed the role of non-governmental organizations in promoting sustainable development in the least developed countries.

In her concluding remarks, ECOSOC President Marjatta Rasi (Finland) said that the problems of countries engulfed in conflict were among the challenges faced by LDCs.  The countries themselves needed to take charge of the situation, albeit with the help of the international community.  Creation of ECOSOC’s ad hoc advisory groups in Guinea-Bissau and Burundi represented an important initiative, which could be followed for other countries.  There could be no peace without development and no development without peace.  Development partners needed to do more to provide assistance to LDCs.

Other crucial elements for LDCs emerging from conflict included capacity-building, appropriate funding and enhanced coordination among partners, she said.  As for trade and market access preferences, today’s discussion had made it clear that further improvements needed to be introduced, although progress had been achieved.  The most important challenge was that targets of the Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved without targeted efforts to mobilize resources and root out poverty in the world’s 50 poorest countries.

Opening Remarks

Opening the meeting, MARJATTA RASI (Finland), President of ECOSOC, said that the need to achieve the Millennium Development target of reducing poverty by half by 2015 had focused attention on the need to address the problems of least developed countries.  Yesterday, one of the topics discussed by the participants of the meeting included the means of attaining international commitments by mobilizing resources in the context of good governance and efforts to maintain peace.  Today, the meeting intended to focus on such issues as efforts to improve the situation of countries ravaged by conflict and ensure better access to markets.  The dialogue would be enriched by participation of non-governmental organizations in the afternoon session.

IBRAHIM A. GAMBARI, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, said that the Brussels Programme had created the global platform to address the poverty in least developed countries, as well as their marginalization in the world economy.  By May, three years would have elapsed since the Brussels Conference, and perhaps the question needed to be asked what had been achieved.  Sadly, the minimalist answer would be that some progress had been achieved.  The reality was that more still needed to be accomplished.

The discussion today and the High-Level Segment itself would provide a unique opportunity for the international community and the LDCs themselves to reaffirm their commitment and, more importantly, to redouble their efforts to achieve the goals of the Brussels Programme.  At a time when the international community had established clear and inspiring goals for development in the form of the Millennium Development Goals, and when security had become indivisible and the collapse of a State in one part of the world could have terrible consequences for the rest of the world, the Brussels Programme could not be allowed to go the way of the first and second programmes of action for the LDCs.  The days when programmes were not backed up by action should be over.  Inaction or complacency would exact high and painful costs, not only in terms of increased hunger and poverty, increased infant and maternal morality and rising levels of illiteracy, but also in the festering of political turmoil and instability.

If tackled effectively and courageously, he said, the problems could be solved.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had emerged as the African Union’s programme that embodied the vision leadership of African leaders for peace and development on the continent.  It provided an excellent framework for global support for its objectives through the combination of the principle of African ownership and the offer of partnership with the international community.  African countries, including the LDCs, stood to benefit most through joint efforts.

The wind of peace was now blowing over Africa, as illustrated by the progress made in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau and elsewhere on the continent, he said.  Hence, there was a need for renewed efforts by Africans themselves, with the support of the United Nations system and the international community in terms of addressing the challenges of post-conflict peace-building.  Resource mobilization was needed to achieve the goals of the LDC Programme.  Much emphasis had been placed in Brussels not on promises, but on “deliverables”.  Now was time to turn promises made into reality.

JOAO JOSE SILVA MONTEIRO, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Guinea-Bissau, said peace and poverty eradication were two core themes on the international community’s agenda.  Africa was most affected by those subjects, due to its low share of international trade and frequent conflicts.  On 14 September, Guinea-Bissau had wanted to move beyond a difficult stage in its development.  As pledged, on 28 March, Guinea-Bissau would hold elections to renew the Parliament and provide legitimacy for the current Government, which would be able to dialogue with the international community.  Everything was ready for the holding of free and transparent elections.  At present, all of the courts were functioning normally.  The military, which had been involved in decision-making, would return to their barracks.

Since the beginning of the year, the administration had established several programmes, including one for emergency economic management, he said.  Such programmes reflected the Government’s commitment to self-management, as well as the need to ensure good governance.  Working with the international community had produced good results for a country emerging from conflict.  Guinea-Bissau was involved in a transitional process.

SERAPHINE WAKANA, Minister for Planning, Development and Reconstruction of Burundi, said that Burundi, which had plunged into a devastating armed conflict in 1993, had gradually begun to stabilize since the signing of the Arusha Agreement.  The flaw in that Agreement was that it was signed by the political parties before a ceasefire had been achieved with rebel groups.  In that context, the Government was pursuing two complementary tracks, namely continuing negotiations to conclude a full ceasefire and the relaunching socio-economic development.  The later included the reform of the defence and security force, rehabilitation of war victims and the establishment of democracy.  Her Government had also established specific programmes in areas such as HIV/AIDS, debt reduction, emergency social programmes, and capacity training.

Burundi had already appealed for international support for the priority subjects during the various donor round tables, she said.  Pledges made by development partners continued to grow.  However, the implementation of the pledges was slow.  Immediate disbursement was needed to finance programmes, including for the modernization of national identity cards and financing facilities for war victims.  The lack of resources also strengthened dependence on foreign aid.  It was critical that development partners went beyond political circumstances and recognized the real progress made by Burundi towards peace.

EVELINE HERFKENS, Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Developments Goal Campaign, said that, indeed, the LDCs were wildly off track in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The clock was ticking, and the time was running out fast.  Some of the Millennium Development Goal deadlines –- for example, the 2005 deadline on gender equity in education – would certainly be missed.  The problem of many international conferences was basically that promises were made and then participants returned to business as usual.  Unless every country adhered to its promises, the Millennium Development Goals would “end in the pile of litter”.

The Brussels Programme of Action was very good, she continued.  If the participants had adhered to their commitments, the world would now be a beautiful place.  It included measures to improve governance, fight against corruption, improve education and the infrastructure; but the results were little.  The good news was that decent results could be seen in the countries that were governed better.  Others showed little progress.  A recent study showed that up to 5 per cent of some countries’ gross domestic product was wasted on bad management and corruption.

Actually, poor countries had reformed a lot, she said, and it was actually the rich countries that were lagging.  Participants at the Brussels Conference had pledged that efforts by poor countries would be matched by development partner action.  While more official development assistance (ODA) was being provided, and new progress had been achieved in Monterrey, the question was how much of that assistance was reaching the LDCs.  It was really important to have vigorous monitoring of the implementation of the goals.  It was not only the quantity of aid, but also its quality that was important.  Brussels had talked about harmonization and simplification of assistance.  Indeed, some progress had been achieved in that respect.  However, translation into operational procedures on the ground was still lacking.

Also in Brussels, focus had been placed on long-term and predictable efforts, she said.  Unfortunately, little had been done in that respect, and that question needed to be examined.  Agriculture subsidies in rich countries represented another important issue to address, as it seriously affected the markets of least developed countries.  The Doha agenda needed to be put back on track, and market access issues needed to be taken up, as well as the issue of debt.  While some flexibility in terms of debt relief had been achieved for countries emerging from conflict and the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative had introduced important issues, more needed to be done.  For the international community, just as for each nation, the ultimate test lay in the way it treated its weakest members.

Round Table D – Enabling Environment and Resources Mobilization

For LDCs Emerging from Conflict:  Experiences of Guinea-Bissau and Burundi

The round table on enabling environment and resources mobilization for the LDCs emerging from conflict -- the experiences of Guinea-Bissau and Burundi -- was co-chaired by Joao Jose Silva Monteiro, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Guinea-Bissau; Seraphine Wakana, Minister for Planning, Development and Reconstruction of Burundi, and Ibrahim A. Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa.

The panellists included: Dumisani Kumalo, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations; Koichi Haraguchi, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations; Jean-Jacques Graisse, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP); Berhanu Dinka, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi; Harry Snoek, Deputy Division Chief, African Development, International Monetary Fund (IMF); Sarah Cliffe, Programme Coordinator, Low-Income countries Under Stress Initiative, World Bank; and Ado Vaher, Director, External Relations and United Nations Affairs, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Presenting the experience of Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Monteiro said that his country, which was in a transition period, was moving towards elections to renew the Government’s legitimacy.  Guinea-Bissau had voluntarily selected the path of democracy.  The people were used to voting, albeit it in a single party system.  Elections were not everything in a democratic process, however.  The problem was the post-election period, in which a group of individuals would have broad legitimacy.  Some might use that legitimacy to siphon away money and violate the law.

While the country had had good government leading up to the election, following the elections that might not be the case, presenting a paradox, he continued.  Guinea-Bissau’s Parliament, the National Transition Council, had not been elected.  Rather, the council was an agreed upon structure that included all the various parties.  In Africa, the system must be revamped, as those who won elections often took over the entire country, whereas those who lost really lost everything.

Ms. Wakana presented the experiences of Burundi, saying that her country had just gone through a decade of conflict.  Since 2000, a number of agreements on peace and reconciliation had been reached, as well as a series of ceasefire arrangements.  The transitional government was currently working to implement those arrangements.  Many displaced persons and refugees were returning to the country.  Burundi had already reached a stabilization agreement with the IMF.  Reform was under way.  The Government had adopted a range of programmes in all areas.

Burundi was facing a tremendous resource shortfall, she said.  Burundi had adopted a round-table process to dialogue with its partners.  Disbursement of resources, however, was much lower than pledges.  The issue of military spending, which was tied to the strategy to reintegrate former rebels, meant that there would be higher military spending in the initial years.   It was also important to look at the coordination of initiatives with partners.  The transitional government had to undertake a national dialogue to establish a long-term vision.  She also called for the strengthening of the transitional institutions to ensure good governance and proposed the creation of a special fund for reconstruction and development.

In the discussion that followed, Mr. Kumalo said it was important to remember that ECOSOC advisory groups dated back to a Secretary-General’s report on the General Assembly open-ended working group on the causes of conflict in Africa in 2000.  Most people in countries emerging from conflict knew how they wanted to run their countries.  The problem was that conflict destroyed their credibility.

Addressing the situation of Burundi, Mr. Haraguchi said armed conflict posed the biggest threat to development.  Where there was conflict, financial resources could not be expected, except for emergency aid.  The inflow of foreign direct investment was important for economic development.  It would not be provided for a country in conflict, as investors knew that their investments would be lost.  A ceasefire, therefore, was a necessary precondition before meaningful economic development could take place.

As conflict in Africa had regional dimensions, strong cooperation from neighbouring countries was crucial, he added.   Africa had been taking ownership of Burundi’s ceasefire and resources had to been allotted to priority issues.  Cooperation with the Bretton Woods institutions and among international organizations was also essential.  Also, the importance of cooperation between the recipient and donor sides could not be overemphasised.

Mr. Dinka said peace in Burundi had tremendous positive consequences for the entire region.  Burundi was now at a crossroads, where it either succeeded or slid back into anarchy, chaos and violence.  Burundi needed to firmly implement its current priorities, including the demobilization and reintegration of armed groups, the security sector and judicial reform, the repatriation of refugees, the return of internally displaced persons, and the organization of free and fair elections.  Without adequate resources, those priorities would not be carried out.  The poverty situation must also be addressed.

Among other issues raised were the shape that Burundi’s long-term development vision would take and how it would be articulated, and the need to look at the underlying causes of conflict, namely poverty.  New innovative ways must be found to channel pledges.  Noting the existence of “peace-spoiling” elements, one speaker noted the importance of looking not only at the “software” issues, but also the “hardware” needs, for example the building of bridges or schools.

Addressing questions of IMF conditionalities for countries emerging from conflict, Mr. Snoek noted that, in the case of Guinea-Bissau, long-term political engagement was needed and the international community could not leave once elections had taken place.  While the Fund and the Bank could assist on economic issues, the international community had to address the root political causes of conflict.

Ms. Cliffe noted the difference in aid allocations for large operations, such as Afghanistan, and small operations.  A consistent level of support was important for countries emerging from conflict.  On coordination and prioritization, the Bank had been trying to encourage the development of integrated plans, including action on the political and security front.  Unless actions in that area were fully funded, programmes in the socio-economic area might not be successful.

Addressing challenges to creating an enabling environment, Mr. Graisse said that while governments in countries emerging from conflict were central to the transition planning, implementation and coordination processes, they had limited capacity to lead or engage in those processes.  Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable was not always sufficiently prioritized in post-conflict planning processes.  Also, while quick projects that showed results at the community level could play an important role in bolstering peace processes, few governments were able to put such plans into action in the time required.

Summarizing the discussion, Mr. Gambari said that speakers had expressed support for the Ad Hoc Groups on Guinea-Bissau and Burundi.  Regarding Guinea-Bissau, it was noted that bad governance could follow good relations.  Weak institutions needed to be rebuilt.  While the same applied for Burundi, speakers had recognised the specificities of that country, which had been thoroughly devastated.  While recognizing the positive role of the Bretton Woods institutions, speakers also stressed the need to address the issue of IMF conditionalities, including how relevant they were to countries emerging from conflict.

The creation of a special fund to address the special needs of those countries must also be addressed, he said.  While an enabling environment often existed, mobilizing resources required the establishment of priorities and close coordination within the United Nations system and the country level.  The issue of poverty also had to be addressed, as well as the regional dimensions of challenges, he said.

Round Table E -– Trade and Market Access Preferences

The round table on trade and market access preferences –- commitments, achievements, challenges and prospects:  the experience of Burkina Faso –- was co-chaired by Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; and Tertius Zongo of Burkina Faso.

The panellists included:  Ditte Juul Jorgensen, of the European Commission; Arthur Westneat, Private Sector Adviser of the USAID Bureau for Africa; Adair Heuchan (Canada) member of the Integrated Framework Working Group; and Pierre Encontre, Senior Economist, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The participants of the discussion briefly reviewed recent preferential market access initiatives in favour of LDCs and addressed the main means of improving their participation in the world markets.  It was noted that the utilization of market access preferences by the poorest countries had been relatively low.  At the same time, speakers highlighted the benefits that could be drawn from enhanced preference on the markets, in trade flows and in terms of investment, employment creation and income.

The main obstacles that needed to be removed included relative unpredictability of market access preferences, the rules of origin and non-tariff barriers to trade, as well as persistence of agricultural subsidies and weaknesses in the supply capacities of most LDCs.  Price fluctuations had a negative effect on the LDCs’ economies.  Frameworks needed to be created not only for their trade with industrialized countries, but also among themselves.  Capacity-building and technical assistance issues were raised by many speakers, and the role of the private sector was emphasized.

Initiating the discussion, Mr. Zongo said that it was an indisputable fact that trade exchanges were a substantial source of wealth generation.  The entire international community today agreed that the main challenge was combating poverty, but it was a multifaceted phenomenon.  In the least developed countries, for example, it was often associated with the agricultural sector.  Therefore, the focus of the strategy there should be on the agriculture and the poor involved in it.

In his country, a number of basic commodities, including cotton, could be competitive.  A number of governmental reforms had been aimed at that commodity, which constituted a significant segment of the country’s exports.  West African and Central African countries, which accounted for some 2 per cent of the world trade, had the cheapest cotton on the planet, which was also of good quality.  In order to reduce poverty, it was important to identify the people who had in their possession the tools to lift themselves out of poverty.  Fair and equitable market rules needed to be applied to the cotton-producing countries.  Subsidies, artificial barriers and external debt represented a serious problem.

Speakers pointed out that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan were among the countries that had done a lot to open their markets to LDCs.  A European Commission representative recalled that the European Union was an important market for the developing countries, including the LDCs.  Preferential imports from LDCs under the “everything but arms” scheme amounted to some €4.3 billion.  That initiative came on top of the existing system of quota-free imports from developing countries, which was an important part of Europe’s development and trade policies.

The United States’ representative outlined his country’s efforts to facilitate LDCs’ access to markets.  Duty- and quota-free treatment was being extended to numerous countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa.  The United States provided two sets of market access preferences:  one to non-African LDCs through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme; and the other to LDCs within Africa through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which had been recently reviewed and extended.  The latter was mainly relevant to textiles and apparel.  The decrease in the frequency of review of the list of products under the Act implied increased stability.  Regional trade hubs had been recently created in several African countries.

It was also said that new market challenges included underutilization of existing preferences.  The lack of resources and skills caused countries to miss opportunities.  Trade support services for market promotion, support for product diversification, quality compliance assistance, enhancement of marketing and technological capacities of industries, and establishment of marketing institutions were among the priorities identified in the debate.

More money was actually spent on trade development and promotion than on trade policy, but that was not the perception that most people had, a panellist said.  It was important to simplify and harmonize the rules and improve information about the existing framework and schemes.  Trade, finance, commerce and agriculture specialists needed to come together to evaluate the means of improving LDCs’ access to markets.  Of particular importance were LDCs’ participation in the process and their ownership of it.  Also important were planning, monitoring and follow-up.

Another point made in the debate was that it was necessary not only to create preferences, but also alter the world market structure.  The United States and the European Union could no longer dominate the world market.  It was necessary to create regional and subregional institutions for the development of markets.  It was also important to stop dumping commodities through monopolistic control of products.  In recent years, world production of cotton had doubled, but the price had fallen in half.  The resulting loss of income for Burkina Faso and other countries of the region had led to significant economic problems.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.