By Dr Daniel Gay and Dr Kevin P. Gallagher*

Strain on the international system governing the environment and economy is likely to have a major impact on the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs). Pressure on the financial system, development assistance and climate negotiations will affect LDC disproportionately. But it is in trade where the strain may really show for LDCs. The US-China trade war and rich countries' willingness to strike mega-regional and bilateral deals undermine the world trading system. Multilateralism helps LDCs strike deals collectively as part of a bloc using accepted rules, rather than exposing them to negotiations with more powerful counterparts.

And as more countries -- mostly in Asia -- 'graduate' from the LDC category, the trade preferences delivered by the European Union and others will become less meaningful to the LDC group, since graduating Asian LDCs such as Bangladesh and Cambodia use preferences the most. In order to avoid a damaging schism in which the rich world leaves the have-nots further behind, more inclusive and LDC-sensitive trade schemes will need to be designed which are tailored to the needs of individual countries or regions. Developed nations could help by reforming their own practices on climate, tax havens, immigration, subsidies and economic management. A small downturn in an LDC can be devastating, whereas the worst-off in richer countries have savings and social safety nets. Because people in the poorest countries have less room to cushion the impact, they have the most to lose. For people in LDCs, revitalizing multilateralism is a matter of survival.

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*Dr Daniel Gay is the adviser of the UN Committee for Development Policy on the least developed countries. Dr. Kevin P. Gallagher is a member of the UN Committee for Development Policy and director of Boston University's Global Development Policy Center. This article represents their personal views and not necessarily those of the United Nations.