New York, 12 September (UN Headquarters) – The newly appointed United Nations envoy for the world’s poorest countries today said that trade ministers and representatives of landlocked developing countries wrapped up a recent meeting in Mongolia agreeing to a unified approach in coming international trade negotiations that would spotlight their special cases and improve market access for the most marginalized economies in the world.
“This group of countries faces many challenges with regard to international trade due to geographical location and lack of access to the sea,” said Cheick Sidi Diarra, who is Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS). Their market participation was also threatened by high transport costs, regulatory constraints and other delays, as well as obstacles at customs and border crossings, he added.
In his first Headquarters press briefing since his appointment last month, Mr. Diarra highlighted the outcome of the 28 to 31 August Ministerial Meeting of Landlocked Developing Countries on Trade and Trade Facilitation, held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and took the opportunity to lay out some of the priorities of his Office.
A correspondent noted that 34 of the 50 United Nations-identified least developed countries were in Africa, and asked about the relationship between the Mr. Diarra’s Office and the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA). Mr. Diarra said that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had decided that he would be the focal point for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) at the Headquarters-level. That meant that resources between OSAA and the OHRLLS would be consolidated. So, while the mandate given by the General Assembly to both Offices would remain in effect and the respective budgets intact, the Special Adviser’s Office would now report to the Assembly through the High Representative.
On the trade meeting, which also featured the participation of officials from transit developing countries, he said the agreement between the ministers on the way ahead — known as the “Ulaanbaatar Declaration” — was important because landlocked developing countries’ trade accounted for less than 1 per cent of global trade, mainly because of high transport costs, poor infrastructure, and non-physical barriers to trade, such as dependence on neighbouring transit countries’ political will, extensive bureaucracy by customs, poor market access, and other problems in trade facilitation.
The participants had pledged to engage in a constructive manner in the global trade negotiation processes, including within the World Trade Organization (WTO), and had also launched preparations for the midterm review of the Almaty Programme of Action, set to take place in New York next fall. The Almaty Programme, adopted by an international ministerial conference in Kazakhstan in 2003, addressed specific measures to establish efficient transit transport systems, recognizing the link between transport and international trade and economic growth.
Responding to questions, he said that it was crucial for landlocked nations to strike bilateral arrangements with neighbouring transit countries that would facilitate better movement of goods. The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATTs) agreements, as well as articles 5, 8 and 10 of the WTO Convention, although not binding, could serve as models in that regard. Quota-free and duty-free access to 100 per cent of goods coming from landlocked developing countries was another option. But, what was more urgent was to allow access to the WTO by those landlocked developing countries without membership in that organization.
He went on to say that along with reaching bilateral agreements on transit facilitation, landlocked developing countries should also step up efforts to harmonize procedures with neighbouring transit countries. To that end, small details often mattered; synchronizing working hours, establishing common customs services and even diver’s licenses could yield big benefits.
He added that vast inconsistencies and regulatory disparities within and between countries accounted for 25 per cent of delays in the transit of goods and services. One of the priorities of the Almaty action plan was to develop and harmonize physical infrastructure. The Asia Railway Agreement signed last year between 17 Asian countries was a good example of a regional effort making it easier for people and goods to circulate.
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