His Excellency Mr. Ouane, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mali and
Chairman of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries,
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you for convening the 8th Annual Ministerial Meeting of Landlocked Developing Countries, the first one after the successful holding, last October, of the High-level Midterm Review of the Almaty Programme of Action by the United Nations General Assembly.
It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to address this ministerial gathering. It is indeed an ever more important annual appointment for all of us working closely with your Group of countries.
Your Communiqué will provide both increased strength to the collective bargaining power of your Group and the needed political guidance for its concerted and effective actions within the United Nations and at the global level.
I wish to congratulate you also on the adoption of the Rules of Procedure for the Group. With an expanded Bureau, the Group will increase its effectiveness in bringing the special developmental challenges of the landlocked developing countries to the fore in global and regional fora of particular interest to the Group.
Looking at the near future, your Trade Ministers will meet next month on the occasion of their Third Ministerial Meeting, which will take place for the first time in the African continent, in Swaziland. Allow me to thank the Government of Swaziland for generously offering to host this important meeting. The purpose will be to take stock of the progress made and constraints encountered by the landlocked developing countries in the areas of trade and development since the last time they met in Ulaanbaatar in 2007, and to consolidate the Group’s position on crucial issues at play in the WTO Doha Round.
Another forthcoming important global forum that will require a strong coordinated position of your Group will be the December meeting on climate change in Copenhagen. Climate change threatens to have profound impacts upon the social and economic development of the landlocked developing countries, even though the fundamental causes of the phenomenon are overwhelmingly not a consequence of their actions. Yet, landlocked developing countries are prone to disastrous effects such as desertification, declining rainfall levels, reduced water availability and severe droughts. Strong political commitment is required to integrate climate policy and development goals and ensure increasing adaptive capacity and resilience in coping with the unavoidable after effects of climate change. The international community must make available financial and technical resources, as well as capacity building to help your countries cope with the challenges posed by climate change.
Going forward, Mr Chairman, allow me to stress the importance of the MDG Review next year. In anticipation for this landmark event, it is crucial for the Group to prepare an in-depth analysis of where we stand in terms of the global partnership with the development community with regards to the implementation of MDG 8, which specifically incorporates the special needs of landlocked developing countries and the Almaty Programme of Action.
As you are well aware, we meet at a critical time as the global economic climate has profoundly changed over the past twelve months. The full impact of the financial and economic crisis is being revealed to us in all its devastating strength. And the landlocked developing countries, because of their inherent vulnerabilities, have unfortunately been hit particularly hard.
The LLDCs as a group had been performing very well just prior to the crisis, with an average annual rate of GDP for the Group of 7.7 per cent in the period 2003-2007. However, high economic growth was not accompanied by diversification of productive capacities, with primary commodities still making up a large proportion of total exports. As a result, the Group remains highly vulnerable to external trade shocks. Merchandise exports had reached just under $85 billion for the Group in 2007. But this figure could go down by as much as a tenth this year, were the recession to persist and commodity prices to continue falling. In line with this, the IMF growth projections for a large number of the landlocked developing countries exhibit sharp reductions which could result in severe balance-of-payments deteriorations.
The effects of the crisis are compounded by the specific geographical constraints and challenges faced by the landlocked developing countries which hamper their economic and social development. It is a delicate period for us as not only do we have to continue to address existing challenges, but also ensure that we do not lose the hard-fought gains landlocked developing countries have made, to the crisis.
It is for this reason that we must continue to persist with the timely implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action. The United Nations General Assembly has reconfirmed that the Almaty Programme constitutes the sound global framework to address the specific socio-economic developmental challenges of the landlocked developing countries in a holistic way.
The last few years have proven that change is indeed underway — various initiatives have seen fruition thanks to increased cooperation between landlocked developing countries and their neighbours, a strengthened role play by regional and sub-regional organizations, and an across-the-board recognition by the entire international community of the urgent need to make concrete headways towards the Almaty goals. There is much cause for celebration. For example, the average time taken by a landlocked developing country to complete export formalities was reduced by an entire week over the last three years and, in the same period, the time for imports dropped by six days. Since 2003, progress has also been observed in institutional reforms aimed at strengthening public and private sector dialogue so as to enhance domestic competitiveness.
Among the recent successful initiatives, let me praise the latest concrete demonstration of Mongolia's solidarity and commitment to the cause of the landlocked developing countries: the establishment of the international think tank on the LLDCs in Ulaanbaatar. The United Nations Secretary General attended the opening ceremony in July this year and expressed the gratitude of the United Nations to the government and people of Mongolia for hosting this important institute. The think tank fills a recognized need for landlocked developing countries by providing a centre of excellence for analytical research and policy advice for this group of countries with a focus on economic growth and poverty reduction. It will contribute to further strengthening the analytical capacities of landlocked developing countries needed for the effective implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action and the MDGs. And it will help them better articulate their positions throughout the world. I urge all landlocked developing countries to take an active involvement in this important initiative so as to impress a truly international, global approach to its work. My Office stands firmly behind this initiative and looks forward to establishing early operational links.
At the international level, the UN System organizations have been actively embarked in the follow up to the Midterm Review of the Almaty Programme. The Fifth Interagency Consultative Meeting on the Almaty Programme Implementation, held in March earlier this year, endorsed a Matrix which outlines activities and programmes to be implemented by the all relevant United Nations agencies and international/regional financial institutions in favour of the landlocked developing countries - with the purpose to enable greater coordination and streamlining of efforts to ensure maximum utilization of resources and thereby, achieve greater results. My Office is deeply engaged in coordinating these system-wide efforts and remains at the forefront with its advocacy activities, with a variety of stakeholders, to push forward with the achievement of the Almaty goals.
Inspiration must be drawn from these successes and efforts should be intensified by all stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of the Almaty Programme. While the landlocked developing countries must persevere with their efforts towards reform, the international community should also acknowledge that there is an urgent need for additional and predictable development assistance in the form of flexible, concessional and fast-disbursing financial resources to assist landlocked countries facing major financial gaps due to the current global economic crisis and to support crucial trade and transport infrastructure development projects at the national, sub-regional and regional levels to ensure smooth connectivity of landlocked countries to sea ports.
Targeted technical assistance should also be made available to enable a pro-development accession of the landlocked developing countries to the World Trade Organization with particular attention given to their special developmental challenges. The landlocked WTO Members should strengthen their concerted efforts to ensure better conditions for transit trade in the negotiations on trade facilitation. In this context, allow me to extend my deep appreciation for the unwavering commitment shown to the LLDC cause, by Paraguay as Coordinator on Trade and Development Issues for the Group.
In conclusion, the Almaty Programme affords us a framework for better transport infrastructure for the landlocked developing countries but to achieving the overall aim for this vulnerable group of countries to become active and successful participants in the international economy. The progress that we have observed over the last few years is testament to the commitment shared by all of us to our common cause. It is through and thanks to that continued engagement that I strongly believe that over the next few years we will see not just the eventual implementation of the Almaty Programme but also the attainment of important developmental goals that are before the landlocked developing countries.
I thank you for your attention.