United Nations Headquarters, 23 June 2003

Distinguished delegates
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me at the outset to welcome you all, in my capacity as Secretary-General of the International Ministerial Conference, to the first session of the Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee of the International Ministerial Conference. I convey a very special welcome to the Honourable Ministers who are participating at this session.

You have, Mr. Chairman, my full support for the important work that you and members of your Bureau would be undertaking.

The International Ministerial Conference as convened by the UN General Assembly resolution 57/242 presents a unique opportunity for landlocked and transit developing countries, together with their development partners, to undertake a serious dialogue that would contribute to improving world’s transit transport systems.

The fundamental constraints to the development efforts of landlocked developing countries are linked to their unfavourable geographical handicap. The lack of access to the sea, remoteness from major international markets, inadequate transport infrastructure and cumbersome transit procedures force the landlocked developing countries to bear additional costs for their external trade transactions. It is being increasingly recognised that excessive transport costs create a major barrier to international trade.

The success or failure in trade of landlocked developing countries is largely determined by transport availability and cost. Africa has the highest freight-to-export ratio. Ten of the fifteen landlocked developing countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda and Uganda) spent 40 per cent of their export earnings on transportation and insurance services. It is indeed a very heavy burden on these countries, something which they can ill afford.

High transport costs have enormous impact as well on the economic development of landlocked developing nations. It diminishes exports profits, and cause inflation in the prices of imported inputs for manufacturing. Moreover, high transport costs reduce the level of investment, both directly through increasing the costs of imported capital and indirectly through reducing the level of total savings that is available for investment. This can’t but have a negative impact on growth in the long run. Countries with high trade transaction costs are also less likely to attract export-orientated private capital. In addition, transport costs affect a country’s choice of trading partners. If export markets largely consist of poor, slow growing markets nearby and the costs (including transportation) of switching to new, richer and faster growing markets further away are prohibitive, the country’s growth potential may be severely inhibited.

Because of such constraints, landlocked developing countries find themselves among the poorest of the developing countries, with anaemic growth rates being the norm. Landlocked developing countries had the weakest GDP per capita growth rate in the 1990s compared to the rest of the developing world. More worryingly, their growth rate is much slower than that of least developed countries in general. This point is clearly illustrated by the fact that 16 of the 31 landlocked developing countries are also LDCs. There is thus a real risk of landlocked developing countries becoming further marginalized in the world economy. Unless this negative trend is arrested, the gap between landlocked developing countries and other developing countries will only widen. I do not want to dwell too long on the details, because the substantive issues will be addressed at the High-Level Panel tomorrow.

In recent years, the international community has become increasingly cognizant of the development quandary faced by landlocked developing economies. The most palpable demonstration of this rising awareness was the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration, in which world leaders called for a global partnership to address the special needs of landlocked developing countries. .

At its 57th session, the General Assembly considered the progress made in the preparations for the International Ministerial Conference. This was accomplished on the basis of the report of the Secretary-General submitted by my Office. During the General Assembly deliberations, Member States, while expressing their positions on the substantive and organizational aspects of the Conference, also provided a clear demonstration of the great importance that they accord to the specific needs of landlocked developing countries in general, and international cooperation for establishing efficient transit systems in particular.

The landlocked developing countries are carrying high expectations into this Conference. This will be the first ever high-level UN event targeted at their special needs and helping them to integrate effectively into the world economy. A positive outcome from the International Ministerial Conference will undoubtedly galvanize international recognition and support for the efforts to develop a win-win solution for both landlocked and transit developing countries.

I strongly believe that it is clearly in the interest of both landlocked and transit developing countries to make a concerted attempt at adopting a tangible and realisable programme of action that takes into account their mutual needs. On the one hand, the measures agreed during the Conference should allow landlocked developing countries to fully enjoy unfettered access to the sea by all means of transport; to reduce costs and improve services in order to increase their export competitiveness; to decrease import costs; to access transport routes that are free from delays and uncertainties; to minimize en route loss, damage and deterioration; and ultimately to open the way for export expansion. On the other hand, transit developing countries should benefit from efficient transit transport services and revenues generated by the provision of services to their landlocked neighbours

Mr. Chairman,

Let me now turn to the substantive preparatory process of the International Ministerial Conference.

The necessary work started with broad-based consultations to prepare a conceptual framework for the International Ministerial Conference. In this regard, the Inter-agency meeting that I convened in New York last June was crucial in charting out the conceptual framework and organizational approach for the Conference. This first meeting brought together about 50 senior officials from more than 20 UN agencies, including the World Bank, UNCTAD and the Regional Commissions. The Economic Commission for Africa was also present. We also invited representatives from both landlocked and transit developing countries to the Inter-agency meeting to represent their views. This meeting constituted the launching of the preparatory process for the International Ministerial Conference.

The following principles served as our guideposts in coordinating the system-wide preparations for the International Ministerial Conference:

– First, the Conference shall be uniquely focused on a specific agenda. Such a tightly defined agenda should lead to action-oriented outcomes, the implementation of which would be feasible and quantifiable.

– Second, the Conference is a UN-wide joint undertaking. It has the sole objective of formulating a new agenda aimed at establishing efficient transit systems around the world.

– Third, the preparatory process and the Conference itself should inclusive in terms of participation. In this context, I have the pleasure to inform that we are working with the International Chamber of Commerce to mobilize private sector participation in the Conference.

– Lastly, we endorsed a bottom up approach whereby the sub-regional and regional levels feed into the global level preparations. Efficient transit systems will by its very natural location be established at the sub-regional level. Therefore, to be meaningful and effective, any global programme needs to be based on sub-regional assessments of constraints and priorities for future action. Preparations at the sub-regional and regional levels have therefore merited our special attention.

Three regional meetings have been convened as part of the preparatory process for the International Ministerial Conference. These meetings assessed the transit transport systems in Africa, Asia and the Latin America. They also adopted regional programmes of action aimed at establishing efficient transit transport systems at the sub-regional and regional levels. In the lead role, the Regional Commissions, with the close cooperation of my Office, made significant contributions to the preparation and organization of these regional preparatory meetings.

Regional-level preparation was kicked off with the regional meeting for the Latin America on 12 and 13 March, which was hosted by the Government of Paraguay in Asuncion. The Meeting concluded on a high note with the adoption of a regional programme of action.

For Asia, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific followed with four sub-regional meetings in South-east Asia, Central Asia, North-east Asia and South Asia. Based on the outcomes of these meetings, the Asian action plan was adopted by the Commission at its special meeting on 25 April, with the support of the Bangkok-based delegations to ESCAP.

The regional preparatory process was completed with the African regional meeting. This was held from 5 to 7 May at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Substantive and active involvement by the regional economic entities of Africa, namely Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Union économique et monetaire ouest Africain (UEMOA) was critical to the drafting of the Africa action plan. This Africa meeting was the last but most important one as majority of the landlocked countries are located in Africa.

The outcomes of these regional meetings are incorporated in the Report of the Secretary-General in document A/CONF.202/PC/2.

On behalf of the UN Secretary-General, I have initiated a campaign to mobilize voluntary contributions for the Conference. I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to the governments of Japan, Greece, Italy and Switzerland as well the European Commission and the Special Unit for TCDC, for their generous contributions to facilitate the preparatory process of the International Ministerial Conference.

UNDP Resident Representatives were also mobilized. For this, I sent a letter, co-signed with Mr. Zephirin Diabré, Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of the UNDP, requesting Resident Representatives to fund at least two participants from each landlocked and transit developing country at this session in New York and at the International Ministerial Conference itself in Almaty.

Another agency that has been very actively involved in the substantive preparations for the Conference is the World Bank. My Office has been in regular contact with the Transport Division of the Bank. I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the 2003 Annual Transport Forum of the World Bank. Keeping the upcoming International Ministerial Conference in view, the World Bank devoted an entire chapter of its annual “World Economic Perspective” report to transport services. This is a major substantive contribution by the World Bank to the Conference. The CD-Rom of this report is provided in the folder that we prepared for your easy reference. In addition, the World Bank is preparing a comprehensive paper on infrastructure investment by private sector in landlocked and transit developing countries.

UNCTAD has also prepared report on landlocked developing countries. It looks at the issue from three principal angles: transit facilitation, trade expansion and investment promotion. The UNCTAD secretariat has also prepared technical papers on the transit transport systems of landlocked developing countries as well. To complement these efforts, my Office is preparing a comprehensive publication on the overall socio-economic development trends and transit transport problems faced by landlocked developing countries. This publication will survey the transit transport systems around the world as well.

To generate international awareness of the International Ministerial Conference and of the special needs and problems of landlocked developing countries, the General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to launch a public information campaign. My Office has therefore undertaken a broad range of activities towards realising this mandate . In addition to the keynote speech at the 2003 Annual Transport Forum, my Office has convened a number of briefing sessions for New York-based delegates and representatives of UN entities and other international institutions.

Additionally, the Department of Public Information of the United Nations has started a publicity campaign for the International Ministerial Conference. It issued a number of press releases and news alerts during the sub-regional and regional meetings. The Department has also designed a poster for the International Ministerial Conference and prepared the Conference brochure. These activities have worked well in garnering international attention to the particular needs and problems of landlocked developing countries, and to the Conference.

Should you require more detailed information, please visit the website of my Office (www.un.org/ohrlls) that has a special section on the Ministerial Conference. This site contains useful information regarding preparatory meetings at the regional and international levels, background documents, host country information, work programme and provisional agenda of the Conference, hotel information, parallel events, etc.

As the Secretary-General of the Conference, I have been in regular contact and consultations with the Host Government. The United Nations planning mission was fielded from 7 to 9 April 2003 to review the physical facilities for the Conference and to consult with the National Preparatory Committee of Kazakhstan on all organizational and logistical aspects of the Conference.

The draft host country agreement between the Government of Kazakhstan and the United Nations will be finalized soon. Almaty’s city administration will provide the necessary support and facilities, including security, transportation and medical services for the participants of the Conference. During this session, the host government will give a special briefing for the participants on 26 June Thursday.

Before I finish, let me say a few words on the final outcome of the Conference.

Unlike other big UN conferences, the timeframe provided by the General Assembly to complete the preparations for the International Ministerial Conference that was to be held outside the UN headquarters was very short. The regional preparatory meetings had to be organized and concluded in four months time. My Office also had to lay out the substantive and organizational groundwork for the Conference, including the solicitation of voluntary financial contributions, within a very compressed period of time.

In view of the tight schedule, we have taken the initiative to prepare a first draft of the final outcome for the International Ministerial Conference. In coming up with this draft, my Office drew on a wide variety of resources. These included General Assembly resolutions, the outcomes of recent meetings of governmental experts of landlocked and transit developing countries and the donor community, the 1995 Global Framework on transit transport cooperation, and the outcomes of the three regional preparatory meetings. We also drew upon a large number of reports and studies prepared by the World Bank, UNCTAD, the regional commissions and relevant international organizations.

It is hoped that the draft final outcome proposed by my Office will facilitate the work of the Committee in effectively carrying out its mandate to agree on the relevant policy measures and action programmes for finalization and adoption by the International Ministerial Conference, as called for in General Assembly Resolution 56/180.

In conclusion, let me reiterate the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations urging us to give our utmost support to the International Ministerial Conference. This is unquestionably the most determined effort to date by landlocked countries, transit nations and the international community to find much needed and mutually beneficial solutions to the urgent matter at hand.

I wish you every success in your deliberations. 



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