Statement by Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States at the High-level Meeting on Trade Facilitation and Aid-for-Trade, Accra, Ghana, April 19, 2008

Excellencies,
Mr. / Madame Chair,

I would like to begin by expressing my deep appreciation to AITIC for co-organizing this important event to examine the role that Aid-for-Trade and the negotiations on trade facilitation can play for boosting the external trade of landlocked developing countries. Let me also take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all the distinguished delegates gathered here for accepting our invitation.  

Despite the gains that the international trading system has brought, the landlocked developing countries remain marginalized. Landlocked developing countries’ share of world trade remains miniscule. The main reason for such poor performance on the part of landlocked developing countries is excessive transit transport costs. Geographical realities coupled with a lack of critical transport infrastructure and additional border crossings entailing complex procedures often pose more significant impediments to trade for landlocked developing countries than tariffs. There is little doubt that without real solutions to the disadvantages that beset the landlocked developing countries, these states will continue to be driven to the outer fringes of the global economy.

In view of the above, I would like to emphasize the importance of the Aid-for-trade initiative. I wholeheartedly support this comprehensive and integrated initiative aimed at assisting developing countries to seize the opportunities offered by the rule based international trading system, and strengthen their capacity to fully mainstream trade into their national development strategies. Especially, the Aid-for-trade has the great potential to help landlocked developing countries to build their supply-side capacity, trade-related infrastructure and strengthen their negotiating capabilities at the multilateral trade talks. Establishment of viable transit transport systems, export capacity building, trade facilitation schemes at both national and regional levels could be considered priority areas for assistance to landlocked developing countries under the Aid-for-trade initiative. Let me also emphasize the importance of the development of a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation mechanism for the Aid-for-Trade in order to improve the delivery of pledges, results orientation and adherence to the Paris Declaration.

As we all know, the exhaustive procedural requirements, documentation and contracts have a negative impact on external trade performance in landlocked and transit developing countries. It is severely felt on landlocked developing countries as their goods travel through additional border crossings. According to the World Bank estimate, pre-arrival documents, customs and inspections accounted for 75 per cent of total delays. Each additional day in transport delays costs 0.5 per cent of cargo value for goods transported by ship or rail. Exporting and importing take 52 and 65 days for landlocked developing countries as a group against 30 and 39 days spent by transit developing countries. These statistics illustrate the magnitude of the impact of cumbersome procedures on the external trade performance in particular and economic development in general of landlocked developing countries.  

Therefore, landlocked and transit developing countries must aggressively pursue to implement bold trade facilitation measures. The WTO negotiations on trade facilitation afford an extraordinary opportunity to landlocked developing countries. Article V on Freedom of Transit, Article VIII on Fees and Formalities, and Article X on Publication and Administration of Trade Regulations of the 1994 GATT Agreement cover the most important aspects of traffic in transit.

Landlocked developing countries should vigorously seek to ensure that freedom of access by all means of transport is effectively operationalized; and that national treatment is provided for all facets of traffic in transit, including charges, transit services providers, customs and administrative operations. Rules and regulations should be made transparent, simple and easy to understand.

A bold, ambitious outcome of the trade facilitation negotiations should also include binding commitments on developed country members to provide technical assistance and support to landlocked developing countries on a priority basis, based on an assessment of individual country needs. Also, the WTO and other relevant organizations should extend well coordinated and coherent technical assistance to landlocked developing countries. Close cooperation and collaboration between landlocked developing countries and their transit neighbours, at regional, sub-regional and bilateral levels is also necessary to undertake necessary trade facilitation measures.

Landlocked developing countries should further strengthen their collective bargaining capability at the WTO talks to advance their common cause in the context of aid-for-trade and trade facilitation. In this regard, I would like to stress the importance of the Asuncion Platform for Doha Development agenda where landlocked developing countries agreed on a priority area for their concerted action at the international trade talks. By the same token, the outcome documents of the thematic meeting on transit transport infrastructure development and trade, and trade facilitation convened last year in Burkina Faso and Mongolia respectively, as part of the midterm review of the Almaty Programme of Action provide a timely assessment on where landlocked developing countries stand, and what needs to be done in order to reduce trade transaction costs to strengthen their competitiveness at the international markets.

I hope today’s event will help landlocked developing countries to mobilize the attention of those who gathered here in this beautiful city, for this UNCTAD conference, to the urgent need for greater support to this vulnerable group of countries. 

Thank you very much.