Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr. Stephen O’Brien,
Director Alison Evans,
Dr. Arjun Karki,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address you today at one of Britain’s most respected think tanks on international development. Let me begin by saying that I am honoured that Mr. O’ Brien is able to join us today - despite his busy schedule - and would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Bond network of NGOs and the Overseas Development Institute for facilitating this debate. Today, we also fortunate to have with us two members of the high-level panel established by the UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon to advocate on behalf of the group of least developed countries. Sir Richard Jolly and Mr. Louis Kasekende, it is indeed an honour to welcome you to the debate. Finally, I would like to say that I am convinced that the discussions today will make a significant contribution to the process leading up the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Development Countries which take place from 9-13 of May in Istanbul.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me to briefly provide some context.
The least developed countries (LDCs) is a UN-defined category of low-income countries, all of which face severe structural constraints to economic growth and development. The group of 48 countries - 33 of which are located in Africa, and Haiti, the remaining 14 in the Asia Pacific region - represent the world’s poorest and weakest segment of the international community. They have low per capita income, poor human asset development and have extreme vulnerability to both internal and external shocks. As a result, many of these countries rank among the lowest on the human development index. Chronic poverty, troubling maternal and child mortality rates and staggering unemployment figures are just some of the salient features of the LDCs.
Poverty in the LDCs is severe, persistent and widespread. Around 53 per cent of their population live in extreme poverty and 78 per cent live on less than $2 a day. Equally, the demographic dynamics pose a serious threat to LDCs. At present, this group of countries has a population of 880 million people. It is growing at a rate of 2.3 percent; nearly twice as fast as that of the rest of the developing world. A significant number of youth entering into the labour market provides both a challenge and an opportunity.
The international community realized the need to support these countries and established three Programmes of Action for the least developed countries since 1981 to mobilize global support for their socio-economic development. The first and second conferences, called LDC-I and LDC-II, were held in Paris in 1981 and 1991 respectively. In May 2001, Brussels was host to the UN LDC-III which adopted the Brussels Declaration and Programme of Action for the LDCs for the ten year period from 2001-2010. All three Programmes of Action have been implemented with the intention of evaluating, monitoring and subsequently reversing the negative trends previously shown by the LDCs.
Since the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action in 2001, economic and social development in the LDCs has improved despite differences in progress among individual LDCs. During this period, the LDCs, as a group, grew by 6 per cent per year on average. The gross capital formation as a share of the Gross Domestic Product increased in most LDCs. LDCs made some progress towards reaching some of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals as evidenced by the steady improvement in primary education, access to clean water and gender equality indictors.
Political reforms concerning democratization, transparency, and the judicial system in LDCs have generally advanced over the past decade and there has been some progress towards good governance, especially with respect to efforts to embed and institutionalize democratic governance in their own processes and with respect to empowerment of women.
Over the last decade, development partners also undertook efforts to deliver on their obligations. The LDCs have experienced decreases in debt service payments as a result of debt relief delivered under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Official development assistance in volume terms increased significantly, though aid as a percentage of donors’ gross national income to LDCs remains far below the 0.15-0.20 per cent target set by the Brussels Programme of Action. In the area of trade, LDCs benefited from a number of preferential trading schemes, including duty-free quota-free treatment and improved their market access in developed countries. However their exports are hampered by market entry barriers particularly by non tariff and standards related measures, apart from the supply-side constraints they face. Foreign Direct Investment flows to LDCs increased by record levels over this reporting period though it was targeted mostly to extractive industries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The United Kingdom has and continues to play a leading role in the development of the LDCs with its generous aid programme, investment projects, and humanitarian efforts aimed at helping the most vulnerable progress towards sustainable development. This commitment is evidenced by the active engagement from the Department for International Development (DFID). In 2009, the U.K. contributed 8.4 billion pounds in aid, 1.6 billion of which was directed to the LDCs.
I am heartened to learn that earlier this month following a review of U.K. bilateral and multilateral aid programmes, the Coalition Government reached a decision to increase its aid budget to 0.7 percent of national income from 2013. What is particularly commendable about this decision is that Britain realises that despite the global financial stress we find ourselves in, now is not the time to retreat from commitments to those most in need.
Indeed, the UK review of its aid budget calls for a tighter, more focused approach - an approach which Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell highlighted ‘should serve the world’s poorest’. I should point out that all of the priorities identified by the reviews undertaken are in fact the priorities the LDCs have also identified as areas in greatly in need of additional attention such as education, infant and maternal health, greater access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.
I would go so far as to say that that if the UK is in search of partners to focus British aid, the group of 48 LDCs are prime candidates. Not only do they represent countries with the greatest needs, but any investment into these countries is likely to have a significant long-term impact on poverty. This is not only a goal of the UK and the United Nations, but also of the least developed countries themselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now heading to Istanbul with roughly the same number of LDCs that began the journey in 2001. Only three countries, Botswana, Cape Verde, and Maldives have since graduated from the group. Hence it is important that a renewed commitment to the partnership for LDCs and a results-oriented New Programme of Action is needed. Forging greater partnerships in the fight against poverty is an essential premise of the upcoming Fourth United Nations Conference on the LDCs.
Preparations for LDC IV are well underway and we have been following a bottom-up approach starting from the country level.
National consultations took place throughout 2009 and involved a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Regional review meetings were held for the African and Asian regions, with the participation of LDCs and their development partners, which came up with forward looking outcomes. At the global level, my Office, in close collaboration with UN agencies and other international institutions, have organized a number of events on a variety of key thematic areas that are particularly important for LDCs.
Besides the intergovernmental track, three other tracks including Parliamentarians, Civil Society and the Private Sector, are also engaged in the preparatory process. We have been working on establishing solid institutional basis for these three tracks which will remain involved even beyond the conference in the implementation of the new Programme of Action.
The Secretary-General also appointed a Group of Eminent Persons to examine obstacles faced by LDCs in their economic progress, recommend a new paradigm for structural transformation of the least developed countries and make efforts to raise public awareness and build strong political commitment in support of LDCs in key areas of interest to them. All these initiatives would galvanize synergies in the preparatory process of the Conference.
At the global level, the intergovernmental dialogue and consultation already began. The first session of the Preparatory Committee was held in New York in January where elements of a draft outcome document were identified. The second session of the Preparatory Committee will be held in April and will further develop the draft outcome document. Some of the priorities that have been suggested in the current draft of the New Programme of Action include addressing the key challenges as:
1. Building productive capacity in agriculture, industry and service sectors, and infrastructure
2. Promoting agriculture, food security and rural development
3. Promoting commodities and trade including market access, supply side capacity, global and regional economic integration, and commodity and food price stabilization
4. Enhancing human and social development, gender equality and empowerment of women
5. Building resilience to address multiple crises and other emerging challenges
6. Mobilizing financial resources for development and capacity building,
7. Promoting good governance at national and international level, including human rights,
As we embark on a new decade and a new era, where there is a clear recognition that 48 LDCs with a large reservoir of natural resources, and potential production and consumption locomotive capacities can contribute to the rejuvenation of the global economy and realization of the promises of globalization. For that to happen, special efforts at international level would be critical.
In conclusion, allow me to recognize the vital support that the U.K. is rendering to the LDCs. In this spirit, I call upon you to attend the Istanbul Conference as this will provide a unique and inclusive platform for governments, parliamentarians, the private sector, civil society and international organizations from around the world to negotiate and explore the full potential of partnerships for meaningful development and prosperity in the world’s poorest countries.
I should also highlight that a special intellectual’s forum dedicated to academics, policy makers and thinkers like yourselves will also feature as a key element of the civil society track in Istanbul and I would like to extend to an invitation to all of you to participate.
I look forward to listening to your ideas so that the Istanbul outcome brings us a step closer to global prosperity for all.
I thank you.