Statement by Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and SmallIsland Developing States and at the Latin American Regional Review Meeting for the Midterm Review of the Almaty Programme of Action, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 30 June 2008


Madam Oporto [representative of the Government of Argentina],

Mrs. Lopez [Secretary of the CEPAL Commission],

Distinguished participants


The United Nations and the Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS, are extremely grateful to the Government of Argentina for the kind hospitality and efficient arrangements made for this meeting. My Office is also very appreciative of the support of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL). CEPAL has been a key partner in advancing the mutual interests of landlocked and transit developing countries in South America and has done tremendous work in not only organizing this meeting but also in providing excellent substantive support.


I would also like to thank the participants from the landlocked countries, the transit countries and regional organizations for the great interest shown in this important meeting. Today, we are here to assess the progress in the implementation in South America of the Almaty Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries.


This is the fifth major meeting we are holding as part of the midterm review of the implementation of the Almaty Programme. Last year, we had two thematic meetings. The Burkina Faso meeting held in June 2007 focused on transit transport infrastructure development while the Mongolia meeting held in August 2007 focused on international trade and trade facilitation. The two meetings undertook a thorough assessment of the achievements and enduring challenges in two of the four key priorities of the Almaty Programme. In April this year, we had the regional meeting for Asia and Europe in Bangkok, hosted by the Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in cooperation with the Economic Commission for Europe. Just 2 weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Africa hosted the African regional review meeting, which was attended by over 80 participants representing almost all landlocked and transit developing countries in Africa. 


With today’s meeting, we conclude the thematic and regional preparations for the midterm review of the Almaty Programme. Through the regional review meetings we are gathering crucial inputs relating to the regional perspectives of the Almaty implementation process. While the landlocked developing countries around the world share many similar problems and challenges, we cannot deny that there are regional and often sub-regional peculiarities that must be taken into account for the effective implementation of the Almaty Programme.


In between these major meetings, we are organizing various workshops in partnership with the relevant agencies and international organisations on key, specific issues concerning Landlocked Developing Countries. All these preparatory interactions will help to ensure that the outcome of the High-level Midterm Review Meeting on 2 and 3 October 2008 is comprehensive, solid, well balanced and above all practical for the beneficial integration of Landlocked Developing Countries in the global economy.


Mr Chairman,


When landlocked countries, transit countries, donor countries and international institutions convened in Almaty in 2003, the primary objective was to forge an international partnership to end the marginalisation of Landlocked Developing Countries in the global trading system. The outcome was the Almaty Programme, a focused document with clear undertakings in transit policy issues, infrastructure development and maintenance, international trade and trade facilitation and international support measures. Five years later, we can look back and say that significant progress has been made. The greatest achievement of the Almaty Programme to date has been the universal recognition of the special needs of Landlocked Developing Countries, which has generated tangible actions by not only the transit countries and the landlocked countries themselves, but also by the donor countries, international and regional institutions. The last five years have in fact seen stronger support from development partners in the areas of transport infrastructure development, trade facilitation, official development assistance, debt relief and preferential market access. 


Despite the progress, however, the Landlocked Developing Countries as a Group remain fundamentally marginalized in the global economy. Their share of world exports for the 31 Landlocked Developing Countries has remained well below 0.5 percent, with commodities accounting for the bulk of exports. Their unsustainable external debt continues to mount due to a combination of low productivity, low return on investment and slow export growth. There has been little improvement in transit transport infrastructure and many challenges remain in terms of reducing the red-tape involved in transit trade. As a result, transport costs in landlocked developing countries are among the highest in the world, resulting in high, uncompetitive costs of doing business. In light of the continued rise in energy costs, transit costs of landlocked developing countries will further be impacted negatively.


There is no doubt that the South American region is in better shape than other landlocked regions of the world. However, transit delays and costs remain overall unacceptably high. It takes South American landlocked countries an average of 30 days to export, compared to an average of 20 days in their transit neighbours. The delays add to the already high transit costs, further reducing the competitiveness of Bolivian and Paraguayan exports to global markets.


Landlocked Developing Countries lack the necessary financial and technical capacities to overcome the constraints imposed on them by lack of territorial access to the sea. International support within the framework of the Almaty Programme and, in particular, a significant increase in investment in infrastructure, including transport, storage and communication facilities, are crucial. At the same time, Landlocked Developing Countries need to continue to improve their domestic investment and regulatory climate, which can offset at least some of the disadvantages of being landlocked.


South American countries must continue to promote the establishment of integrated transit transport system which will expand the regional market and make their goods more competitive at the international level. Cooperation at the regional level must be further strengthened. The IIRSA Initiative, for example, has been instrumental in bringing together the 12 South American countries with the objective to consolidate their physical integration — bridges, roads, railroads, waterways and gas pipelines. During the six years since the plan’s launching, a continental infrastructure strategy has been defined based on 10 hubs as geo-economic benchmarks for land planning and sustainable development management. A total investment of USD 1.714 billion is projected for infrastructure projects, such as road rehabilitation and paving, border crossings and bridge improvement, having a direct impact on the development of transport system in the two landlocked countries of the region.


Today, through the numerous presentations, we look forward to hearing detailed accounts on the status of implementation of the IIRSA and other infrastructure and trade facilitation projects and the operational challenges they face, including investment needs, in their efforts to provide the region with an integrated transit transport system, thus making South American trade more fluid and more competitive.


I am confident that this meeting will come up with recommendations of tangible actions and deliverables to enhance the implementation of the Almaty Programme for the beneficial integration of South American landlocked and transit countries in the global trading system.

Thank you for your attention.