Nearly Half of World’s Population Excluded from ‘Benefits of Digitalization’, Speaker Stresses as Second Committee Debates Information Technology for Development

GA/EF/3523
18 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 17th & 18th Meetings (AM & PM)

Nearly Half of World’s Population Excluded from ‘Benefits of Digitalization’, Speaker Stresses as Second Committee Debates Information Technology for Development

Delegates Also Take Up Countries in Special Situations, with Many Expressing Concern over Rising Debt Distress, Declining Financial Flows

Despite global progress in expanding use of the Internet and information communications technology (ICT), the digital divide between developed and developing countries remains wide, speakers told the Second Committee (Economic Financial) today as it addressed that issue.

Shamika Sirimanne of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on “Implementation of and follow‑up to the outcomes of the world Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels”.  She noted that the number of people using the Internet exceeded half of the world’s population in 2018, with 80 per cent of Europeans having access compared to less than 25 per cent in Sub‑Saharan Africa.  Almost half the world’s population remains offline and excluded from the benefits of digitalization.

The representative of Kazakhstan highlighted gross inequalities in access to digital technology, with Africa, least developed countries, conflict‑prone and post‑conflict States and middle‑income countries lagging the furthest behind.  He called for more coordination with the private sector among UNCTAD, the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Bank and other international organizations.

The Maldives representative stated her country — a small State with over 1,100 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean — faces significant challenges for enhancing inter‑island and inter‑atoll connectivity.  An extremely dispersed population and transportation constraints result in diseconomies of scale and service delivery costs 4‑5 times higher than in other countries.  Cuba’s delegate stressed that while 80 per cent of her country’s citizens have access to the Internet, only one in five do in least developed countries.  She called for political will in developed countries to provide financing and technological transfer.

Trinidad and Tobago’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, recognized that advances in technology provide greater opportunities for small island developing States to circumvent their inherent limitations, however access to it remains a challenge.  Mexico’s delegate stressed that the world is progressing at two different speeds, and many will not benefit from accelerated technological change.  She emphasized that current educational programmes have not kept up with the times, as they lack coding and other technological programmes.

Pointing to some advances, the representative of China noted that 5G networks, big data and the Internet of things are advancing by leaps and bounds, but digital literacy must be improved to bridge the digital divide, including through official development assistance (ODA).  Nigeria’s delegate said technology offers an option for poverty eradication as most hubs provide communities with infrastructure for home‑grown innovation, noting ICT are expected to create 2.5 million youth jobs there by 2020, and his country is Africa’s largest ICT market with 82 per cent of the continent’s telecom subscribers and 29 per cent of Internet usage.  The representative of Bahrain noted her country ranks fifth in Asia in e‑Government and fourth in the United Nations infrastructure index in 2018, and now hosts one of the biggest financial technology sectors in the region.

In the afternoon, the Committee turned to debate on the lack of progress made by groups of countries in special situations, still facing challenges in manifold sectors including trade and financing access as they attempt to graduate from their categories.

Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, introduced the Secretary‑General’s reports on “Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011‑2020” and “Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action for the Landlocked Developing Countries for the Decade 2014‑2024”.  She noted the least developed countries’ share of global transport remains far below the 2 per cent target, Internet access remains low while infant mortality rates are still high.  She also said ODA has declined in real terms, and climate change disasters cost 8.5 per cent of GDP in 2017.

In landlocked developing countries, real GDP decreased from 3.1 per cent in 2014 to 2.1 per cent in 2017.  While Internet access rose from 17.3 per cent in 2014 to 25.7 per cent in 2017, it is well below the world average of 48.6 per cent, although ODA rose from $24 billion in 2014 to $28 billion in 2017.  However, “Time is not on our side, we must act with urgency,” she stressed.

The observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern about the resurgence of economic volatility that has resulted in rising debt ratios and debt distress, with total external debt stocks of developing countries and economies in transition more than doubling, pushing 12 least developed countries into distress and plunging five into debt crisis.  Bhutan’s delegate voiced concern over “deteriorating ground realities” especially declining ODA and financial flows, rising uncertainties in trade tensions and a surge in trade‑restrictive measures.  Despite challenges, he noted “We are today the only carbon negative country in the world.”

The representative of Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that there has been growth in the GDP of the bloc, and extreme poverty has fallen, but some 80 million are in food crisis and over 30 per cent of the population will remain in extreme poverty by 2030.  Eritrea’s delegate stated those countries constitute one-fourth of United Nations membership and one‑seventh of the global population.  He said that economic models and institutions are “often rigged against the billions living in the developing world”, citing an unfair international trade regime, limited technology transfer and draconian financial sector practices.

Indonesia’s representative noted those States are disproportionally challenged by infrastructure issues, with 80 per cent of them still commodity dependent.  His country’s real GDP decreased to 2.8 per cent in 2016, while their share of global merchandise trade is under 1 per cent.  Nepal’s delegate pointed to lack of territorial access to the sea for landlocked developing countries, causing high transit cost and, putting serious constraints on efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.  Financing and investments are urgently needed to boost productivity in these countries.

Even progress brings challenges, as the representative of the Maldives acknowledged occurred when his country graduated from the least developed countries category in 2011.  He called upon partner countries to extend support to States on the verge of graduation to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible, with financial institutions showing flexibility in aligning their lending policies with the 2030 Agenda.  The delegate of Bangladesh said potential graduation States are apprehensive over loss of benefits harming their budding development.  Noting there is currently no follow‑up and monitoring mechanism for a smooth transition strategy for graduated countries, he stressed they should receive increased access to regional and multilateral non‑concessional facilities as well as foreign direct investment.

Also speaking in the morning discussion were representatives of Palestine (for the Group of 77), Bangladesh (for the Group of Least Developed Countries), Malaysia (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Russian Federation, Indonesia, Monaco, Singapore, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh (national capacity), Nepal, India, Kenya, Namibia, Ukraine, Armenia, Myanmar, Morocco and Oman.  A representative of the International Telecommunications Union also spoke.

Also speaking in the afternoon discussion were representatives of Paraguay (for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (for ASEAN), Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Lesotho, Mongolia, Qatar, Morocco, Bolivia, China, Botswana, Zambia, Kuwait, Sudan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Turkey and India.  Statements were also made by representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

The Second Committee will meet again on Monday, 21 October, at 10 a.m.

Information and Communications Technology for Sustainable Development

SHAMIKA SIRIMANNE, Director of the Technology and Logistics Division of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on “Implementation of and follow‑up to the outcomes of the world Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels” (document A/74/62).  Reviewing trends in information communications technology (ICT) use, she noted that the number of people using the Internet exceeded half of the world’s population in 2018, although the digital divide remains.  Some 80 per cent of people in Europe have access to the Internet, compared to less than 25 per cent in Sub‑Saharan Africa.  Almost half of the world’s population are offline and excluded from the benefits of digitalization.  Much of the world continues to face the challenges of affordability, literacy, education and the appropriate infrastructure to benefit from the ICT explosion.

On recent ICT developments, she observed the profound impound on labour markets they have had, as a wide variety of occupations become digitalized.  Platform economies have emerged, leading to short‑term assignments online.  This had led to employment opportunities in developing countries, but also raises concerns about changed relationships between employers and workers, who may have less access to traditional benefits, for example.  Moreover, artificial intelligence and automation is expected to replace many routine jobs and may also have gender implications, as jobs traditionally held by women may be taken over by automated technology.

Questions and Answers

The representative of Pakistan asked about practical possibilities for further progress in digitalization.

Ms. Sirimanne responded that the issue of data is moving quickly, precluding an agreement in the working group, but the multi‑stakeholder group shared some very profound ideas which were extremely valuable.

Statements

WAFAA JALLAQ, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the opportunities provided by digital technologies are paralleled by stark abuses and unintended consequences as the world is witnessing increasing digital divides and accelerated technological changes.  Digital cooperation must be based on inclusivity, equity, international law and multilateralism.  She cited a need for advancement of science and technology policies, especially for developing countries.  She said the Group recognizes two significant emerging forces driving value creation in the digital economy:  platformization and monetization of the expanding volume of digital data.  She emphasized the critical role Governments have in shaping the digital economy in dialogue with other stakeholders.  The development community must comprehensively support those countries trailing in the digital economy.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, pointed to the recent surge in modern technologies, including breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, huge amounts of big data, cheap and massive cloud computing and advanced microprocessors.  These technologies offer solutions and opportunities for sustainable development that are better, cheaper, faster, scalable and easy to use.  Notably, they are impacting and changing food production, trade and consumption.  In the push for sustainable food systems in the face of a volatile environment due to climate change, technology will be key in efficient production of food and nutrition.  Despite these huge potentials, however, technologies are not readily accessible for small‑scale producers who make up the majority in least developed countries agriculture sectors.  Measures should be taken to ensure these countries and family farms gain access to the know‑how, technology and innovation they need, with pro‑poor technology and innovations developed.

GLORIA CORINA PETER TIWET (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligning herself with the Group of 77, welcomed progress in access to ICT.  She said that more needs to be done, however, to achieve the goals of connectivity for all and to maximize the value of the technologies to enhance sustainable development, inclusion and empowerment.  ASEAN, she said, has highlighted ICT as a catalyst for the region’s integration and growth.  The organization’s current masterplan for that purpose, reaching its term in 2020, aims for a digitally‑enabled economy that is secure, sustainable and transformative.  The plan after that will focus on the horizontal implications of digital transformation and contribute further to regional market integration and to bringing people together.  Recognizing the growing sophistication of cyberthreats, the organization promotes cybersecurity coordination across all sectors and throughout the region.  ASEAN stands committed, she pledged, to meeting all such challenges, including that that of inclusivity, in an effective, responsible and cohesive manner.

PENNELOPE BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and aligning herself with the Group of 77, said development circumstances facing her bloc continue to be a unique challenge.  Small island developing States face narrow resource bases, limited economies of scale, dependence on external markets and fragile natural environments.  She recognized that advances in technology provide greater opportunities for small island developing States to circumvent their inherent limitations.  The transformative potential of technological platforms and innovative solutions can develop globally connected knowledge spaces which can help reduce poverty, adapt to climate change and accelerate progress in education, health and gender equality.  She noted CARICOM is positioning itself to take full advantage of the opportunities.  Despite regional and national efforts to utilize ICT, she is mindful that accelerated technological change has also expanded the digital divide between the North and South.  Access to affordable and reliable technologies remains a critical challenge to small island developing States, but CARICOM remains committed to developing ICT for peaceful purposes.

IVAN KONSTANTINOPOLSKIY (Russian Federation) stressed the importance of digitalization in building the information society and pulling in various societal sectors.  He also emphasized the need to reduce the digital divide while at the same time remembering the risks.  It is necessary to take an ethical approach when it comes to innovation in areas like artificial intelligence and robotics.  Adding that his country is incorporating ICT into daily life, he said 76 per cent of the population has access to broadband.  Moreover, over the past year, the number of users of the public service portal has risen by 21 million.

ANTONY MULA (Indonesia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, noted farmers can use ICT to grow crops more efficiently, and many other elements of society are being folded into the digital economy.  While over half the world’s population now uses the Internet, progress is uneven, especially in rural areas.  He called for increased investment in infrastructure and other technologies, and improved financing for low income countries, and promotion of digital literacy.

JEAN LAURENT AMBERT (Monaco) said his principality has placed environmental protection at the centre of its interests.  Striving for carbon neutrality by 2020, it plans to achieve this by drawing on innovative technological projects.  Adding that Monaco is also focusing on health care and education, he said it intends to ensure that these services become publicly available.

ROSALIA CUE (Cuba), aligning herself with the Group of 77, noted progress in creating an integrated world with 80 per cent of her country’s citizens having access to the Internet.  However, she said that in least developed countries only one in five have access.  Resources to eliminate the digital divide exist, but more political will is needed from developed countries, in financing and technological transfer.  She stated the United States continues to subvert the situation in her country, which does not require any advice to make progress in ICT.

SIM JOO TEO (Singapore), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said the optimism surrounding digital technology is tempered with a sense of uncertainty.  “Artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data are but just the first of more to come,” she said, referring to future digital disruptions on the horizon.  Outlining Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative, launched in 2014, she said the country is working to achieve a nexus of digital governance, digital economy and digital society.  The fully harness those benefits and minimize risks, Governments must steer their economies and people to a whole‑of‑society approach, she said, describing Singapore’s own efforts to build close partnerships with the private sector; enable industry and community stakeholders to engage within an environment of trust; and empower citizens to co‑create a digital future.

NAYEF MAJED AL-QAHTANI (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of 77, stressed the importance of “equal access for all” when it comes to new technologies.  Working to use the potential of ICT as enablers towards attaining sustainable development, his country has adopted policies aimed at promoting the ICT sector.  As an example, it is harnessing ICT to empower persons with disabilities, helping them attain independence and self‑reliance.  Emphasizing that cybercrimes and piracy threaten international peace and security, he said they must be dealt with in a manner that is commensurate with their gravity — as threats to international security.  Having been the victim of cybercrime, Qatar has adopted relevant legislation to combat it.

CHARLES OGWA (Nigeria), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said technology offers an option for poverty eradication as most hubs provide communities with infrastructure for home‑grown innovation.  He noted ICT are expected to create 2.5 million youth jobs by 2020.  His Government is using those technologies to drive transparency in governance and cost effectiveness in public service delivery.  Nigeria remains Africa’s largest ICT market with 82 per cent of the continent’s telecom subscribers and 29 per cent of Internet usage.  Expressing concern over the widening gap in technology access, he called on Member States to ensure that the benefits of those technologies are available to all regions and countries.

SAVITRI PANABOKKE (Sri Lanka), aligning herself with the Group of 77, said that innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetics and space science must be harnessed in a balanced and integrated manner to address the 2030 Agenda.  In that regard, initiatives on sustainable development must address the digital divide through education and capacity‑building in developing countries.  Pointing to the need to adapt employment training to rapidly‑changing technology, her country formulated a national strategy to build the skills needed for the jobs of the future.  To protect citizens against cyberthreats, she called for cooperation among countries to establish regulatory frameworks.  In that regard, she favoured a code of conduct to tackle online hate, established through an All‑of‑United Nations approach.

KETKANYA JIARPINITNUN (Thailand), associating herself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said ICT are both a lever for growth and an accelerator for sustainable development.  In that context, her country’s “Thailand 4.0” initiative aims to shift towards a values‑based and innovation‑driven economy, reduce socioeconomic disparities and drive sustainability through appropriate and environmentally sound technology use.  Outlining Thailand’s priorities in that arena, she said equitable and affordable access to digital infrastructure is key to bridging the digital divide.  Meanwhile, human capital development remains at the heart of successful ICT policy implementation; for that reason, Thailand is streamlining digital skills training into the curriculum of its major universities.  In addition, she said, it is prioritizing efforts to ensure a safe and secure information society by codifying such laws as the new Cybersecurity Act and the Personal Data Protection Act.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed countries, said that there is perhaps no better instrument to fight against poverty than technology.  He expressed concern, however, over the risk of a new wave of a digital divide in countries abilities to utilize technology for that purpose, as well as over the growing threat of cybercrime.   Recognizing the role of ICT in the progress of his country from low to middle‑income, he said it is now focusing on digital inclusion, finance, information systems and advanced data to further achieve “Digital Bangladesh”.  It has also formulated a national cybersecurity strategy.  He called for a strong global support to developing countries to help them utilizing the now‑burgeoning artificial intelligence and machine‑learning revolutions to address development challenges and retrain their workforce to stem increased exclusion and inequality due to the need for new skills.

FARZANA ZAHIR (Maldives), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said her country — a small State with over 1,100 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean — faces significant challenges for enhancing inter‑island and inter‑atoll connectivity.  The extreme dispersal of the population combined with inherent constraints related to transportation result in diseconomies of scale and service delivery costs 4‑5 times higher than in other countries.  Given the Maldives’ unique spatial profile, the potential to leverage ICT for development gains is also significant.  The recently launched five‑year Strategic Action Plan identifies a clear path for ICT development, including:  The modernization of governance; establishment of digital infrastructure; digitization of Government services; ensuring affordable and quality Internet services nationwide; and developing a digital-ready workforce.  Aware that ICT can also be used to spread hatred and incite violence, the Maldives also recently joined the Christchurch Call to Action aimed at eliminating terrorist and violent extremist content online.

MARIANA DELVERA CANCHOLA (Mexico) noted that the world is progressing at two different speeds, and many will not benefit from accelerated technological change.  She emphasized that current educational programmes have not kept up with the times, as they lack coding and other technological programmes.  Mexico lauds leadership from the Secretary‑General in promoting the importance of this area in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  In doing so, the private sector and civil society must be encouraged to invest.  Multilateralism is vital in achieving more technological inclusion, with the United Nations as the centre for international cooperation.  Rather than being used to foster even greater inequality, technologies should be used to benefit all.

HE FUXIANG (China), aligning himself with the Group of 77, noted that 5G, big data and the Internet of things are advancing by leaps and bounds.  The power of ICT to drive sustainable development should be enhanced, with greater cooperation to help developing countries access the Internet.  He said digital literacy must be improved to bridge the digital divide, including through official development assistance (ODA).  He noted his Government vigorously promotes cooperation in ICT and cyberspace, bridging gaps between rural and urban areas and is willing to share development opportunities with other countries to build a shared future.

LOK BAHADUR POUDEL CHHETRI (Nepal), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, reiterated a call for effective implementation of World Summit on the Information Society outcomes in synergy with the 2030 Agenda.  The old problem of the digital divide remains wide between developed and developing countries, and between urban and rural communities, especially in least developed and landlocked developing countries.  His Government has a vision to transform Nepal into an information and knowledge‑based society and economy, as ICT contribute immensely to disaster risk reduction, public service delivery and good governance.  He stressed that e‑commerce is extremely useful for landlocked developing countries.

ANJANI KUMAR (India), associating himself with the Group of 77, said ICT have transformed the way governance is conducted in a digitally connected world.  “We should always work towards a people‑centred, inclusive and development‑oriented information society in order to bridge the digital divide and achieve the 2030 Agenda,” he said, noting that today 80 per cent of the population in developed countries has access to the Internet compared to less than 35 per cent in developing countries.  In India, the Government has used ICT to improve public services, citizen engagement, transparency and accountability.  The Digital India campaign, for instance, aims to provide each citizen with digital infrastructure, e‑governance and digital empowerment.  India has the second‑largest number of Internet users in the world, and Digital India could help boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by an additional $550 billion to $1 trillion by 2025.  The country has also taken major steps towards financial inclusion, doubling the number of bank accounts in the last seven years, with the help of ICT, he said.

STEPHANIE MUIGAI (Kenya) said her country has identified broadband connectivity and access as a priority issue in propelling national development and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  To facilitate the provision of e‑enabled services nationwide, the Government has continued to expand the reach of fibre-optic backbone infrastructure across the country.  It is expected that the broadband connectivity of all countries will spur the provision of last mile ICT services, bridge the digital divide and scale up e‑Government services across the country.  It will further reduce the cost of doing business and stimulate additional private sector opportunities in rural areas, thus uplifting vulnerable communities from poverty.  As the world prepares for the fourth industrial revolution, Kenya has enhanced technology training in education by providing laptops for children at an early stage of primary school to ensure every Kenyan is equipped with computer literacy from a young age.

ARMAN ISSETOV (Kazakhstan), spotlighting gross inequalities in access to digital technology and in broader sustainable development gains, said Africa, least developed countries, conflict‑prone and post‑conflict States as well as many middle‑income countries are lagging furthest behind.  Underlining the important role of private sector businesses in ICT infrastructure financing and deployment, he called for more coordination with the private sector among UNCTAD, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Bank and other international organizations.  At the national level, the 2017 Digital Kazakhstan programme seeks to achieve sustainable economic growth, increase competitiveness and improve the quality of life of its people.  Among other things, Kazakhstan launched a project to create modelling digital factories, aiming at a 10 per cent increase in labour productivity by 2022, is building digital literacy and is implementing secure high‑speed Internet infrastructure nationwide.

WADE HENCKERT (Namibia), aligning himself with the Group of 77, noted ICT has a great power to transform economies.  His Government is using ICT to promote the futures of women and youth, build a knowledge‑based economy and shrink the digital divide.  He called for the international community to cooperate in fighting the spread of the use of technology to promote hatred and extremism online.  For its part, Namibia needs more technological assistance to combat climate change and desertification, he said, adding that the growth of the ICT sector requires a demand‑driven approach.

IRYNA YAROSH (Ukraine) said that full digitization of all socially essential spheres of life is a top priority for her country.  The country’s new Ministry and Parliamentary Committee on digital transformation are responsible for State policy in the sector of digitization, development of the digital economy, and e‑governance.  Adapting the necessary laws to enhance the protection of personal date and reform the current information security system in Ukraine is another key issue, she said.  The Government is also focused on the development of smart‑ID and mobile‑ID technology with the support of international partners.  The goal is to provide high‑speed Internet access to all communities, and to engage 6 million Ukrainians in the digital skills and competency development programme.

DAVIT GRIGORIAN (Armenia) said the 2030 Agenda acknowledged the vital role of ICT in spurring growth and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Armenian Government has declared ICT a strategic area of focus and was even providing tax benefits to promote the sector.  As a result, the sector has grown almost fivefold over the past few years.  One of the key elements of national reform is establishing equitable and high‑quality education, which emphasizes innovative thinking and the use of modern technologies.

AYE MYAT MYAT MYO (Myanmar) said that the development of ICT is a double‑edged sword — it plays a critical role in accelerating human progress and social development while cybersecurity is a major threat to Governments and policymakers.  Myanmar’s Government has made affordable telecom services to the public available in a short period, with more than 95 per cent of the population having mobile coverage.  The advancement of ICT offers a huge potential for developing countries, especially for those that are least developed, she said.  Technology can be used through commerce to generate money and capital income, create employment opportunities, and allow for easier communication between rural and urban areas.  Myanmar is committed to building a people‑centred, inclusive and development‑oriented information society that can contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

MERIEM EL HILALI (Morocco), aligning herself with the Group of 77, said science and new technologies are key to accessing employment and education, as well as managing resources.  Her Government remains committed to closing the digital divide, which is especially pronounced in her region.  Reforms in telecommunications networks are underway, but the private sector must also play a role, and the digital ecosystem must provide more support to Moroccan businesses and start‑ups.  Her Government has built technology parks in cities including Tangiers and Rabat and remains convinced that entrepreneurship can drive ICT.

ASILA AL HASNI (Oman), aligning herself with the Group of 77, noted that ICT is the main pillar of sustainable development and integral for developing smart societies.  Oman has established several initiatives to prepare itself for the future, with many initiatives having already led to benefits for society and the business sector.  In keeping pace with development in ICT, the Government has also established the National Centre for the Information Society that emphasizes information security so that a safe framework will be available for those who use Government and private websites.  Oman has hosted several conferences and workshops in area of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.  Aware of the importance of capacity building and changing labour market needs, it has set up a national programme to hone the skills of youth so they can harness ICT for the benefit of society.

MAY MUFEEZ (Bahrain), noting that her country ranks fifth in Asia in e‑Government and fourth in the United Nations infrastructure index in 2018, said her Government has taken a number of steps over the past years.  Providing several examples, she said it adopted cloud computing in 2017, and in 2019, Amazon Web Services was launched in the country.  Cloud computing will help to drive employment and provide Government services.  Hosting one of the biggest financial technology sectors in the region, Bahrain has also adopted open banking services, the first country in the Middle East to do so, giving it a leading role in ICT.

URSULA WYNHOVEN, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said that digital technologies with positive societal impact in mind can help accelerate efforts to achieve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 22 per cent and mitigate downward trends by 23 per cent on average.  A strong relationship exists between ICT maturity and the global level of economic progress.  However, close to half of the world’s population is still not using the Internet, let alone the new technologies.  If not managed properly, the wave of technological change might deepen the inequalities between the digital haves and the have‑nots.  ITU seeks to promote investment in digital infrastructure, digital literacy and cybersecurity, including child online protection, and local content in local languages.  The agency’s recent study shows that both fixed and mobile broadband have a positive economic impact in the most vulnerable countries, she said.

Groups of Countries in Special Situations

FEKITAMOELOA KATOA ‘UTOIKAMANU, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, introduced the Secretary‑General’s reports on “Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011‑2020 (document A/74/69) and “Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action for the Landlocked Developing Countries for the Decade 2014‑2024” (document A/74/113).  She noted 12 least developed countries are progressing to graduation from that category, which is encouraging, but requires focus on smooth transition.  Missions to Sao Tome and Principe and the Solomon Islands demonstrated the United Nations commitment to their continued progress.

She noted the least developed countries’ share of global transport remains far below the 2 per cent target and Internet access remains low while infant mortality rates are still high.  She also said ODA has declined in real terms, and all those countries are vulnerable to climate change disasters, which cost 8.5 per cent of GDP in 2017.  “Time is not on our side, we must act with urgency,” she stressed.  At the next UNIDO least developed countries summit, delegates will identify best practices and success stories.  She called for acceleration of the 2030 Agenda and a new Programme of Action that does not leave the countries behind.

On the second report, she noted landlocked developing countries experienced mixed results in progressing, with real GDP decreasing from 3.1 per cent in 2014 to 2.1 per cent in 2017.  Their geographical location requires opening up transit lanes, although a new custom code was recently adopted by the Eurasian Economic Union.  She cited progress including the landlocked developing countries increasing their share of air freight traffic.  While Internet access rose from 17.3 per cent in 2014 to 25.7 per cent in 2017, it was still well below the world average of 48.6 per cent.  She also noted 26 of the countries remain commodities dependent.  Turning to ODA, she noted it had risen from $24 billion in 2014 to $28 billion in 2017.  She called for continued and enhanced investment, technical assistance and capacity development, as well as improved cooperation with transit countries.

Statements

SAHAR NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, said that challenges and crises like climate change, natural hazards, regression in financial progress and the growing digital divide are further compounding the structural challenges that the 47 most vulnerable countries of the world — least developed nations — have been facing, posing a threat to implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  She expressed concern about the resurgence of economic volatility that has resulted in rising debt ratios and debt distress, with total external debt stocks of developing countries and economies in transition more than doubling, rising from $4.5 trillion in 2009 to an estimated $9.7 trillion in 2018, resulting in 12 least developed countries having a high risk of distress and five being plunged into debt crisis.  Turning to landlocked developing countries, she highlighted their remoteness from world markets and geographical constraints imposing serious impediments for export earnings, private capital inflow and domestic resource mobilization.  They are also affected by the frequent falling of commodity prices, highly exposed to climate change and disproportionately affected by its adverse impacts.  She stressed the need to develop their transit transport infrastructure, ICT and energy infrastructure to reduce high trading costs, improve their competitiveness and become fully integrated into global markets.

JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that halfway through the implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action for these countries, it is evident that progress is too slow, with a third of their population still living in extreme poverty.  In that context, he emphasized that the Vienna Programme of Action is integral to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, as are international instruments in financing for development, climate change and disaster risk reduction.  To accelerate progress for landlocked countries, greater investment in high‑quality, resilient infrastructure for vital services is essential.  Increased participation in international trade and adaptation to climate change are also critical.  Stressing the importance of partnership for those purposes, he called on all landlocked developing countries, transit countries, development partners, the United Nations system and all other relevant stakeholders to actively participate in the Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action on 5 and 6 December in New York.

TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that there has been growth in the GDP of the bloc, and extreme poverty has fallen.  However, around 80 million people in his group of countries are in food crisis, and more than 30 per cent of their population will remain in extreme poverty by 2030.  The international community should continue to support these countries, he said.  Climate change and population growth will be an added burden to least developed countries in providing basic services and full employment.  External debt remains a major challenge, he continued.  Least developed countries also need global support to leverage the potential offered by new technologies.

KHIANE PHANSOURIVING (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), speaking on behalf of ASEAN and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said countries in special situations face more challenges than others due to poverty, low productivity capacity, commodity export dependence, low levels of economic transformation, limited market access, transport bottlenecks, high vulnerability to external shocks, adverse impacts of climate change and limited financial resources.  Noting that all those factors hinder efforts to meet global development targets, he said the development of least developed and landlocked developing countries must be given top priority and the international community should provide assistance.  Describing the ASEAN Economic Community — established in 2015 to foster regional economic integration and facilitate the free flows of trade, investment and skilled labour mobility — he said the group is also working to narrow the development gap between ASEAN member States.  Among other things, it is exerting common efforts to combat climate change and improve disaster risk management, he said.

MIKHAIL MASLOV (Russian Federation) said climate change, trade wars and increasing debt are having adverse effects on countries in special situations, but they have vast potential in their resources.  His Government implements major humanitarian projects worldwide, providing food, trade and bilateral and multilateral efforts.  His country has contributed $1.036 billion in financing and written off $20 million in debt in recent years.  He called for bolstering transport infrastructure to drive trade and noted that the unique location of his State makes it especially significant to the countries at issue.

ANTONY MULA (Indonesia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, noted praiseworthy efforts by least developed and landlocked developing countries, but said those States are disproportionally challenged by infrastructure issues as well as health and climate problems.  He noted that 30 per cent of their populations will remain in extreme poverty in 2020, 80 per cent of them still commodity dependent.  His country’s real GDP decreased to 2.8 per cent in 2016, while their share of global merchandise trade is under 1 per cent.

MOHAMMAD NAEEMI (Afghanistan), aligning himself with the Group of 77, Group of Landlocked Developing Countries and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said it is fundamental to take an integrated approach in responding to development challenges facing such nations.  Despite progress that has been made, most least developed countries are falling behind in meeting development targets.  The international community must boost collective efforts to assist them and further mainstream the 2030 Agenda into both national policies and regional cooperation strategies.  He stressed that infrastructure development, especially in the transport, energy and ICT sectors is vital for least developed countries, who face a huge infrastructure gap that must be dealt with through an integrated approach.

NKOPANE RASEENG MONYANE (Lesotho), associating himself with the Group of 77, Group of Least developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developed Countries, said that climate change is among the greatest challenges of the time, which disproportionally impact the poorest and most vulnerable countries.  Lesotho has suffered unprecedented spates of drought that have greatly affected agricultural productivity in rural households, which constitute the highest population of the country.  According to a United Nations report, the 2018‑2019 planting season has been characterized by late onset rains and extreme hot temperatures, coinciding with El Niño induced dry conditions.  As a result, maize production declined by 78 per cent comparted to previous years.  In addition, livestock body conditions have not fully recovered from the 2019 lean season, which may affect their prices as well as the quality of wool and mohair.

NAVAAN-YUNDEN CHIMGUUNDARI (Mongolia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda States have learned that empowering people, ensuing inclusiveness and developing innovative methods of financing are imperative to their advancement.  Underlining the importance of the comprehensive high‑level review of the first five years of implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action, she said it presents a chance to identify obstacles as well as the actions needed to overcome them.  Mongolia has taken proactive measures aimed at improving economic growth, expanding trade relations and facilitating access to regional and international markets.  Within the framework of the Mongolia‑Russian Federation‑China Economic Corridor Programme — a good example of South‑South cooperation — 32 major projects are planned in the fields of infrastructure, energy and connectivity.  The Government of Mongolia has undertaken significant efforts in those areas, including by securing investments in the Central Railroad Corridor linking the three countries.  In addition, she said Mongolia is willing to supply up to 100 gigawatts of solar and wind energy to customers in China, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation by 2036.

TEMEM KHALID AL-MANSOORI (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the least developed countries have considerable human and environmental resources to help overcome their structural challenges.  He noted a large part of his country’s international assistance is devoted to those States, and that the Emir of Qatar has announced funding of $100 million to support least developed countries and small island developing States in combating climate change.

MERYEM HAMDOUNI (Morocco), associating herself with the Group of 77, said the international community must renew support for all countries in special situations, still facing exposure to financial crises and natural risks, hindering their social and economic lift‑off.  Along with ODA, preferential trade conditions must also apply.  She said Morocco invests heavily in strengthening trade ties and continues sharing its know‑how in infrastructure, electricity and renewable energies, as well as in agriculture, fishing and tourism.  She accented the importance of structural economic transformation in generating competitiveness, diversification of exports and sustainable transport.

MUAZ ADNAN (Maldives) said that progress has been uneven across the least developed countries.  It is concerning that the number of donor countries meeting their development-assistance commitments to those countries has decreased in the past years.  The increasing vulnerability of these countries to external shocks, including climate change and high levels of debt, is also cause for concern.  The Maldives was faced with challenges when it graduated from the list of least developed countries in 2011.  It will always appreciate the partners who invested in the country, both in human capacity and material resources.  The Maldives calls upon partner countries to extend support to States on the verge of graduation and ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.  Financial institutions should be more sensitive and flexible in considering requests from the States most in need and better align their lending policies with the 2030 Agenda.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said graduation of a country from its least developed status marks concrete achievements in socioeconomic progress, but there is apprehension among these nations that the loss of benefits will affect their budding development negatively.  There is currently no follow‑up and monitoring mechanism of implementation of the smooth transition strategy for graduated countries.  Some formal status should be accorded to the smooth transition strategy and implementation, especially by development and trading partners of graduated countries.  Graduation of a country also signifies that it has achieved a considerable level of economic foundation, policies and programmes, infrastructure and institutions.  Therefore, graduated countries should receive increased access to regional and multilateral non‑concessional facilities as well as foreign direct investment (FDI).

LILIANA OROPEZA (Bolivia) said there are several historical and geographical reasons that have prevented it from having access to the sea, which has hindered its efforts to achieve sustainable development.  The country’s economic and social development has been undermined for over a century due to its lack of access to that body of water.  Among various disadvantages this creates, it faces excess freight charges and additional warehouse costs.

LUO JIN (China) said that eliminating poverty is the top priority, being the primary goal of 2030 Agenda and the biggest challenge facing the least developed and landlocked developing countries.  Promoting connectivity is another priority, since many of these countries are landlocked, far from sea ports and international markets.  The international community must also promote trade liberalization and facilitation, as trade is an important tool to reduce poverty and achieve development, she said.  In addition, global development partnership should be deepened, with North‑South cooperation being the main channel for international development cooperation.  As the largest developing State, China has always supported the development of least developed and landlocked developing countries, providing funding to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international organizations through the South‑South Cooperation Assistance Fund.

TLHALEFO MADISA (Botswana), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that the challenges facing landlocked States can be overcome by scaling up efforts towards the full implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action, along with the Sustainable Development Goals.  He named in that regard major projects in transportation being put in place under the Vienna Programme.  As these efforts alone are not enough to meet 2024 and 2030 targets, cooperation and partnerships at the bilateral, regional and global levels must be enhanced.  In addition, he described regional free trade agreements that his country has signed onto.  As other strategies to accelerate implementation of the Vienna Programme are needed, he looked forward to the upcoming review of that agreement in December.

THERESA CHANDA (Zambia), associating herself with the Group of 77, Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said that as a least‑developed State, her country has embraced the Istanbul Programme of Action and has made notable progress towards targets in productive capacity, improved communications and openness to markets.  Reporting also a decrease in child mortality and education disparities by gender, she called for strengthened cooperation with development partners in these areas.  Reporting on progress in transit under the Vienna Programme of Action, accomplished together with neighbouring countries, she drew attention to what she said is significant Government investment in the last five years in related infrastructure, despite financing challenges.  With progress also in production and trade policy, including in development of special economic zones and industrial parks, she called for stronger engagement from the private sector in reaching development goals, as well as further support from international organizations for that purpose.

HAMAD AL-MUZYAN (Kuwait), aligning himself with the Group of 77, noted that progress for countries in special situations has not been as great as was hoped given the 11 years ahead.  Financing, trade and capacity‑building remain challenges.  He called on development partners to increase their support to facilitate disaster risk reduction and improving the early warning system for climate change incidents.  His Government has prioritized assistance to the developing countries of the South and has enhanced its contributions and called on other development partners to follow suit.  His Government remains committed to assisting those in need to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and to tackle obstacles in a differentiated fashion in least developed and landlocked developing countries.

NEBIL SAID IDRIS (Eritrea), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted the latter constitute one‑fourth of United Nations membership and one‑seventh of the global population.  He said the world will benefit from their strong voices in finding solutions to global challenges, as the international community must move beyond lip service in facilitating their participation in meetings and conferences.  Without meaningful participation of least developed countries, multilateral bodies including the United Nations will become obsolete.  He stated economic models and institutions are “often rigged against the billions living in the developing world”, citing an unfair international trade regime, limited technology transfer and draconian financial sector practices.  He emphasized that the entire international community has a shared responsibility to ensure that no other decade is missed without progress towards development and graduation of all least developed countries.

MURTADA SHARIF (Sudan) said that progress is slow in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.  International efforts are not living up to the needs of the populations in the least development countries.  Multilateral efforts are needed to address the dangers faced by these countries.  The structural difficulties include low commodity prices, low production capacity, malnutrition, and climate change.  The difficulties should be overcome through the Istanbul Programme of Action, he said.  Unless patterns change, these countries will continue to be in a weak state.  Sudan calls upon its development partners to step up their efforts to ensure implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action.

NAMGYAL DORJI (Bhutan), associating himself with the Group of 77, Group of Least Developed Countries and the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, voiced concern over “deteriorating ground realities” especially in terms of declining ODA and financial flows.  Also concerning are the rising uncertainties in current trade tensions and a surge in trade‑restrictive measures, he said, adding that climate change poses an existential threat to all humanity but a more direct one to those living in vulnerable circumstances.  Bhutan has never strayed from its commitment, made in 2009, to remain carbon neutral for all time to come.  “We are today the only carbon negative country in the world,” he said, noting that many States with limited capacity have in fact demonstrated great ambition and resolve in that arena.  Urging all partners and the international community as a whole to put their words into action and scale up ambition, he went on to note that Bhutan is among the three least developed countries whose graduation timeframes were endorsed by the General Assembly in 2018 and plans to exit the category in 2023.

ARMAN ISSETOV (Kazakhstan), aligning himself with the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, noted that such nations face special challenges due to their lack of direct territorial access to the sea.  Adding that landlocked countries account for less than 1 per cent of global exports, he said they remain marginalized in international trade, isolated from major centres of economic and trade activity and rely on neighbours for transit.  It is increasingly clear that the 91 least developed, landlocked developing countries as well as small island developing States are the most negatively impacted by climate change, adverse effects of a global economic crisis, low transport infrastructure and small scales of economy with high trade costs.  Their forward path is also considerably impeded by the low level of regional cooperation, which must be transformed into a more robust one.  While it is acknowledged that the methods for implementing these important tasks for the three categories of countries differ in their approaches, level of activities and means of realization, a determined partnership of action among the 91 countries, would be an added value.

GHANSHYAM BHANDARI (Nepal), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said the international community needs to focus more on structural transformation in least developed countries.  Noting that the technical divide is hindering development in these nations, he stressed the critical importance of technology transfer.  The slow pace of development also calls for more international cooperation to assist least developed countries in building up production capacity.  As for landlocked developing countries, their lack of territorial access to the sea and high transit costs place serious constraints on efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.  Financing and investments are urgently needed to boost productivity in these countries.

HTIN LINN MAUNG (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77, ASEAN and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said trade tensions, slowing economic growth, rising inequality and unemployment are slowing the pace of progress in many countries — especially the least developed.  The adverse effects of climate change and natural hazards further compound those challenges.  Without special attention, least developed countries will not be able to achieve the targets enshrined in the Istanbul Programme of Action.  Underlining the importance of funding, he said ODA remains a critical source of external financing for least developed countries.  It is disheartening to note that the share of ODA to those countries remains at 0.09 per cent of the gross national income of donor States, he said, calling for additional support from international organizations and financial institutions.  Welcoming the establishment of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, he went on to underscore the importance of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy and of expanding public‑private partnerships as a critical source of funding and expertise for least developed countries.

SERHAD VARLI (Turkey) said the success of the 2030 Agenda will heavily depend on the progress achieved in the Istanbul Programme of Action and subsequent action plans related to the least developed countries.  Turkey has made the support of the least developed countries a priority and provided them with $350 million annually in ODA since 2011.  Having given a total of $8.6 billion in ODA in 2018, Turkey was one of the few countries that fulfilled the ODA target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.  Its development assistance in 2014‑2018 exceeded $38.7 billion, including $7.3 billion in non‑governmental organizational grants and private sector, direct investments.  Turkey actively supports strengthening the science, technology and innovation capacity of least developed countries to help their technological advancements.  The Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries became operational in June and marked the fulfilment of its first Sustainable Development Bank target (17.8) since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda.  The Bank is promoting the development and implementation of national and regional science, technology and innovation strategies, and strengthening partnerships.

SIDDHARTH MALIK (India), associating himself with the Group of 77, said least developed countries continue to face challenges related to resource mobilization, capacity constraints, lack of access to technology and high vulnerability to climate change, natural hazards and communicable diseases.  Meanwhile, landlocked developing countries face challenges related to their lack of territorial sea access and isolation from world markets, as well as barriers in attracting public and private investment.  Calling for special attention to both categories of countries in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda — through the Istanbul Programme of Action and the Vienna Programme of Action — he underlined India’s longstanding development partnerships and its focus on capacity‑building, sharing of technological expertise, financial assistance and infrastructure development.  Among other things, it established the India‑United Nations Development Partnership Fund in 2017 and committed $176 million for projects in least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States over the next decade.

CHANTAL LINE CARPENTIER, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that it has long emphasized the importance of economic structural transformation to poverty eradication and long‑term development in developing countries.  UNCTAD has provided policy advice to the least developed countries as well as produced relevant reports for them.  It has also provided support to the forthcoming mid‑term review of the Vienna Program of Action, she said.  UNCTAD has consistently argued that the review should result in a concrete, measurable and forward‑looking outcome, which will shape the partnership for landlocked developing countries going forward.  Beyond the well‑known challenges of trade and transport facilitation, landlocked developing countries face the deeper challenge of building productive capacities and fostering structural transformation, she added.

MIE VDEL-JORGENSEN, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said least developed countries face unique challenges associated with a lack of direct access to the sea and remoteness from world markets.  They also face difficulties in accessing markets due to their inability to meet market quality standard requirements, making structural change vital in these nations for long‑term economic development.  What is needed is a reallocation of labour from a low to higher productivity sector and the growth that results from this shift.  Technological flows, innovation and knowledge management are important sources of inclusive and sustainable growth.  The agency’s technical assistance in this respect includes quality programmes that strengthen regional economic integration and trade by creating an environment facilitating compliance with international trade rules and technical regulations.

For information media. Not an official record.