I have now the pleasure of introducing the Report of the Secretary-General on agenda item 56 (b) contained in document A/64/268.
After an assessment of the social and economic performance of the landlocked developing countries, including the impacts of the multiple global crises on the development prospects of this vulnerable group of countries, the Report provides an overview of progress and constraints in the implementation of the five priorities of the Almaty Programme of Action, one year after its high-level midterm review. The Secretary-General then puts forward a number of important recommendations for the way forward to which I would like to draw the attention of delegations.
The landlocked developing countries, as a group, continue to remain at the margins of the global economy. The report finds that their share of world trade in goods amounted to only 0.7 percent in 2007, up from 0.5 percent in 2003. This consistently dismal performance underscores the continued difficulties that this group of vulnerable countries faces in their development path, owing to their lack of access to the sea, distance form world markets, lack of export diversification, reliance on a very limited number of commodities, prohibitive trade transaction costs, dependence on official aid and inadequate foreign reserve levels.
These structural vulnerabilities have magnified the negative impacts of the global economic and financial crisis on these countries, which also face the consequences of climate change and had already been negatively affected by the preceding energy and food security crises. As the world economy has faced its deepest slump in recent history and is only now showing tentative signs of recovery, the effects of the collapse in commodity prices, compounded by acute reductions in FDI and trade finance difficulties, will be long felt by the populations of this group of countries. At threat here are the advances that have been made towards the achievement of the MDGs and the Almaty priorities.
The global economic crisis has hit the economies of landlocked developing countries at a time when much headway had been made. Between 2003 and 2007, the gross domestic product of this group of countries in special situation saw an average annual growth rate of 7.7 per cent, with average GDP per capita almost doubling in quantity. This remarkable growth was accompanied by a record high foreign direct investment of $14 billion in 2007, a result of strategic policy reforms and continued economic liberalization. Furthermore, positive changes to macroeconomic management had resulted in lower ratios of external debt to gross national income for these countries. However, with falling export volumes and commodity prices, the growth projections by the IMF for 27 out of 31 landlocked developing countries exhibit sharp reductions in growth rates for the year 2009.
An urgent call is upon the international community to intensify its support through 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 connectivity of landlocked countries to sea ports.
As for the five Almaty priorities, the Secretary-General Report underscores the notable progress made by landlocked and transit developing countries in reviewing their regulatory frameworks applicable to transit transport and trade, with a view to eliminate inefficiencies in trading across the border and thus increase competitiveness. Electronic single-window systems, automated customs procedures, reduction in the number of checkpoints along transit routes, one-stop border facilities and increasing competition among customs brokers are only some of the important reforms implemented by landlocked and transit developing countries as necessary steps to achieve the Almaty Programme goals.
A great number of infrastructure development and upgrading projects, of regional and sub-regional relevance, are underway in all landlocked regions with the financial support of the donor community —for example, substantial advancements have been made to both the Trans-Asian Railway and the Asian Highway Networks, with the latter having achieved the goal of providing connectivity to all landlocked developing countries in the region. In Africa, a renewed commitment to regional infrastructure development has been attested by several important developments, in particular the decision by the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development to merge their strategic frameworks to create a common continental initiative, called the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa.
These positive developments have borne fruit, Mr. Chairman.
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. This will certainly bring about greater efficiencies and reduction in transport costs but the underlying figures are still too high for too many of the landlocked developing countries, especially in Central Asia and West Africa.
In a period of global just-in-time production sharing, and intensified global competition, success depends on the ability for firms to move goods across borders in a predictable, timely and cost-effective way. For countries with poor and unreliable links to the global logistics web, the costs of exclusion are growing by the day and the risks of missed economic opportunities loom large.
That is why trade facilitation with its focus on enhancing trade competitiveness should become more and more a crucial component of the policy strategies of landlocked developing countries and their transit neighbours. The ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization on trade facilitation offer, indeed, a great opportunity in this direction, with what is seen by many stakeholders as an area of the Doha Development Round that is expected to produce a win-win solution for business, consumers and Governments. The landlocked developing countries should further strengthen their concerted engagement in this forum with a view to reaching an agreement with binding rules that ensures improved conditions for transit, harmonized standards and a smoother flow of goods across the borders.
Closely linked to the trade facilitation agenda is the Aid-for-Trade Initiative which has entered a more operational phase through a number of model aid-for-trade projects, with strong donor support, which have benefited landlocked countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and in Southern Africa. These best practices have shown that success depends on creating closer cooperation at the national level among relevant Government authorities in the areas of trade and finance, to be matched by closed cooperation at the international and regional levels among intergovernmental organizations with core responsibilities in these areas and beneficiary Governments.
As the rest of the world, landlocked developing countries must also deal with the impacts of climate change. The Report stresses that these countries are prone to disastrous effects such as desertification, declining rainfall levels, reduced water availability and severe droughts. A strong political commitment is required to integrate climate policy and development goals and ensure increasing adaptive capacity and resilience. The international community must make available financial and technical resources, as well as capacity building to help these countries cope with the challenges posed by climate change.
As we head into the near future, the challenges are varied and numerous; above all: overcoming the effects of the global economic crisis, adapting to climate change and building greater resilience to it, while continuing to pursue the reforms and cooperative efforts needed to establish efficient transit transport networks for both landlocked and transit developing countries. The Almaty high level midterm review last year acknowledged that the Almaty Programme constitutes a sound global framework to address the specific socio-economic, developmental challenges of the landlocked developing countries in a holistic way. It is thus with a strong sense of partnership and commitment that we all must continue in our efforts to see the Programme to its rightful conclusion, by achieving the overall aim for this vulnerable group of countries to become active and successful participants in the international economy.
I thank you for your attention.