UNCTAD: New model needed to help world’s poorest nations
A new approach is necessary if the world’s most poverty-stricken countries — recently battered by the food and energy crises, the global recession, and, in some cases, natural disasters — are to escape their predicament, speakers said this afternoon in opening a two-day meeting of experts on “Key development challenges facing the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).”
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said experience has shown that outside efforts to help LDCs must focus more on enabling them to diversify their economies — to be less dependent on raw materials or agricultural commodities, “on copper, on cocoa, on coffee.” Enhancing such economies’ “productive capacities” offers hope that these nations can make steady progress and be less vulnerable to external shocks, such as the global recession and the natural disasters that recently struck Haiti and Samoa, Mr. Supachai said.
The expert meeting is to provide input to an UNCTAD report that will be published in advance of the LDC IV conference to be held in 2011 in Turkey . The report will focus on “structural economic transformation” in LDCs.
Mr. Supachai noted that since the LDC category was created by the United Nations in 1971, the number of countries assigned to it has nearly doubled. It now stands at 49. Only two countries have “graduated” from LDC status in 39 years: Botswana (1994) and Cape Verde (2007), although three more may soon do so.
“Some countries had been successful in diversifying their economies, in creating jobs, in improving governance,” Mr. Supachai said. “We should be able to learn from lessons past so that things will be better in the future.” He added: “We should be looking at ways of making LDC status a temporary status.”
Also speaking at the opening session were Jean Feyder, Ambassador of Luxembourg and President of UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Board; Dinesh Bhattarai, Ambassador of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, coordinator of the Least Developed Countries Group; and a representative of the host country of the upcoming LDC conference, H. Bozkurt Aran, Ambassador of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Mr. Feyder said it is important to consider new ideas, approaches, and options, especially given the effects on LDCs of the global financial crisis. It is vital to consider what structural changes can be accomplished in these nations’ economies and to take a strategic, long-term approach that will allow solid and sustainable progress, he said.
Mr. Bhattarai said LDCs continue to be vulnerable, to be marginalized economically, to experience a lack of resources, and to suffer from widespread poverty: “The poorest of the poor, sometimes referred to as the ‘bottom billion,’ are living for the most part in the LDCs.” Recently, matters have been especially difficult, with the global recession taking hold and with several severe natural disasters striking some LDCs, he said.
Mr. Aran said there had been “modest progress” towards meeting development goals set at the previous LDC conference, with considerable variation among countries — but the global recession had stalled, and even reversed, that progress. Some LDCs had seen their exports fall by 50% in 2009. Greater international aid and commitment are needed to restart the modest upward trend that emerged earlier in the decade, he said. “Conditions have to be established to allow social and economic transformation.”
During the two-day meeting, economists, academics, and other experts familiar with the challenges facing LDCs will consider such topics as LDC performance and structural progress; the trade performance of LDCs; investment promotion for such countries; and the roles than can be played by technology, innovation, and infrastructure.
The Chairman of UNCTAD’s inter-divisional task force on LDC IV, Debapriya Bhattacharya, will summarize the debate when the expert meeting concludes on 19 February.