Honorable Ministers,

Excellencies, 

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset, I wish to congratulate you, Mr Chairman, for convening this ever more important ministerial gathering, not only as it reaches today its ten-year milestone, but also because it points to the increasing collective strength of your group of countries.

It is indeed the guidance emanating from this meeting that all of us working closely with your delegations rely upon as we proceed with our concerted efforts to advance the interests and address the concerns of the landlocked developing countries within the United Nations and in other relevant regional and global fora.

I also wish to commend, Minister Lara Castro, your personal leadership and dedication to the Group and the excellent work done by your Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Dos Santos, during Paraguay’s two-year tenure as Chair of the LLDC Group.  You certainly leave big shoes to be filled by your successor. 

In particular, the next chairmanship will need to decisively steer the Group through the substantive preparations for the comprehensive global review conference of the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action in 2013 — a decision that you, Honorable Ministers, in your communiqué, are asking the UN General Assembly to take during its current session.  In this regard, I wish to reassure all of you of the unrelenting support that I personally and, of course, my entire office will provide all along the challenging road ahead of us.

Excellencies

The global economic recovery remains extremely fragile, compounded by the re-emergence of rising food costs, volatile energy prices and the continuous threat from irreversible climate change impacts.

The Secretary-General, in his annual progress report on the Almaty Programme, which I will have the honor to introduce in less than a month to the Second Committee of the General Assembly, stresses that given the vulnerability of our economies to external shocks due to limited export diversification in the majority of our countries, it is only prudent for us to remain vigilant while striving to structurally transform our economies and follow a path of sustained and sustainable development that will ensure a better future to our people.

With this grand objective in mind, the full and effective implementation of the Almaty Programme priorities would directly and efficiently contribute to the acceleration of the rate of progress of landlocked developing countries towards the Millennium Development Goals.  

Currently, the group of 31 landlocked developing countries still accounts for less than one percent of global merchandise trade. Year after year, evidence has shown us that the single biggest obstacle to increasing this share is the very high cost of transport which, for our countries, is a bigger barrier to trade than tariffs. Notwithstanding the notable progress made by every landlocked developing country on the Almaty priorities, lack of direct access to the sea and remoteness from major markets continue to represent enormous impediments to growth given the persistent inadequacy of transit transport infrastructure, cumbersome customs and border crossing operations and generally unreliable transit transport logistics, drastically reducing the competitiveness of LLDC exports on world markets.

Excellencies

The ten-year comprehensive review Conference of the Almaty Programme and its preparatory process will offer a critically important and timely opportunity for the landlocked and transit developing countries and their development partners to assess, with unprecedented depth of analytical detail, the implementation of the Almaty Programme, looking in particular at its best practices and areas of weakness.

The Conference should develop a new common action-oriented strategic framework for the next decade, based on scaled-up partnerships among landlocked and transit developing countries with substantially enhanced support of the development partners, with a view to effectively assist our countries to develop and efficiently maintain adequate transit transport infrastructure, ensure connectivity through regional strategic trade corridors to access seaports or regional trade partners and lower trade costs, with the main objective to facilitate our integration into a growingly complex and changing world economy.

The Conference should be preceded by sub-regional, regional and substantive preparations in a most effective, well-structured and broad participatory manner. The existing mechanisms of the UN regional commissions shall be fully utilized – and I indeed look forward to a period of intense, close cooperation with my colleague Alicia Barcena for an effective review in the Latin American region.

Allow me at this point to commend the continuous generosity, solidarity and deep commitment to the cause of the landlocked developing countries of the Government of Kazakhstan, also shown through strong, unremitting support provided to the work of my Office, for which I am very grateful. We also welcome their offer to host the Fourth Meeting of the Trade Ministers of LLDCs as well as the first high level review meeting that will officially launch the preparatory process for the comprehensive review conference – both to be held in Almaty during the first half of 2012. 

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies,

Before I conclude, let me point to two crucial recent developments that promise to give an important boost to the Almaty Programme implementation rate.

First, I am glad to share with this ministerial meeting the progress made by my Office in close cooperation with the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission in promoting the conclusion of an intergovernmental agreement on the Trans African Highway. Just earlier this week, my Office organized, together with ECA and the African Union Commission, an Expert Group Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I am pleased to report to you that the representatives from the African Regional Economic Communities agreed on the draft text of the regional agreement on the Trans African Highway. The draft agreement, along with the Plan of Action leading to its conclusion, will be submitted to the Conference of African Ministers in charge of Transport that will be held in November 2011 for their consideration.

Second, let me underscore another important initiative, this time of global scale: the International Think Tank on the Landlocked Developing Countries. In this regard, I wish to call on all of the Governments of the LLDCs, that have not yet done so, to come forward and sign and ratify the multilateral agreement on the establishment of the International Think Tank. A minimum of ten signatures is required for it to become operational – we need at least six more. Let me congratulate, first of all of course, Mongolia for the tremendous leadership and commitment shown to the cause of the Group by spearheading this initiative and making tangible progress in the physical and substantive establishment of the new institution, that H.E. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, President of Mongolia, described as “vitally important” to the landlocked developing countries in addressing the high-level debate of the 66th session of the General Assembly just 2 days ago. I also congratulate Paraguay and Ethiopia for having signed the agreement yesterday and Niger who will sign on Monday. As you well know, this is one initiative which the Secretary-General strongly supports and is keen to see take off and achieve its expected concrete results. The Think Tank analytical work and innovative approaches will also be needed during the upcoming preparatory process for the review conference.

Mr. Chairman,

It is clear that what we have ahead of us are two critical years during which the concerted political leverage of your Group must be very cleverly and strategically used, vis-à-vis both your transit neighbors and your development partners, including the international and regional financial institutions. Positive inspiration must be drawn from the widespread pockets of success in advancing the Almaty agenda on the ground.  Solutions to persistent problems and constraints must be accompanied by renewed political will and strengthened financial support.

We need to aim high, to an ambitious results-oriented new partnership framework that is, at the same time, deeply rooted in the realities of our countries and strongly supported by more vigorous commitments on the donors’ part.  Only through genuine, strong and focused engagement and cooperation by all stakeholders, I am convinced that the landlocked developing countries will be able to overcome their geographical disadvantages, unlock their potential and become active and successful participants in the international economy.

I thank you for your attention.