Much progress made by landlocked developing countries in last decade, agenda unfinished

Group photo: ESCAP/OHRLLS/ECE/Government of Lao PDR

Much progress has been made, but lack of territorial access to the sea, remoteness and isolation from world markets and high transit costs continue to hamper socio-economic development of Euro-Asian landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), participants reviewing the final regional implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action (APoA) heard during opening statements.

Hosted by the Government of Lao PDR, in cooperation with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, representatives from 12 of Asia’s and two of Europe’s LLDCs are assembled in the Laos capital from March 5-7 to conduct the final regional ten-year review of the APoA for LLDCs.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Dr. Noeleen Heyzer said: “Despite many challenges faced by LLDCs, I am optimistic. With the support and cooperation of transit countries and international community at large, LLDCs of the region not only can realize their full development potential, but can also play an important role as landbridges.”

In his introductory remarks, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, LLDCs and Small Island Developing States, Mr. Gyan Chandra Acharya stated: “The challenge before many LLDCs is to secure a sustained positive economic growth that delivers decent jobs and enables countries to make significant strides towards poverty reduction and broad based sustainable development.”

The three-day review will identify policy recommendations and actions in four priority areas - transit policy issues; infrastructure development and maintenance; trade facilitation and market access; and international support measures - as well as strategies for the next decade that need to be implemented if Euro-Asian LLDCs are to fully participate in the global trade and realize their full potential for sustainable and inclusive development.

In recognizing the significant progress in the area of transport infrastructure development, Dr. Heyzer noted that this was in part due to enhanced support extended by the transit countries among other development partners. In line with this, she highlighted ESCAP’s work reorientation towards realizing the vision of an international integrated intermodal transport and logistics system in Asia, with a focus on the development and upgrading of the Asian Highway (AH) and Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) networks together with the development of dry ports, linking LLDCs to high-growth coastal areas in corridors of prosperity.

However, Dr. Heyzer stressed LLDCs and transit countries in the region continue to face many challenges in implementing transit transport priorities under the APoA.

Similarly, while LLDCs and neighboring transit countries have made great effort to improve their trade competitiveness and trade facilitation, the recently launched ESCAP – World Bank trade cost database shows that trade costs of LLDCs are still extremely high, typically 4 to 7 times higher than those of most other middle-income developing countries in Asia largely due to constraints they face due to their lack of access to sea.

Furthermore, limited progress has been made in terms of obtaining nondiscriminatory market access by LLDCs of the region with only four countries having successfully managed accession to WTO since the adoption of the APoA, including the Lao PDR that has just fulfilled the conditions. As many as six countries in the Asia-Europe region are currently undergoing WTO accession.

“I urge the international community to facilitate this process of accession to WTO of LLDCs on easy and expedited terms, thereby providing them the fruits of the multilateral framework of trade and market access,” stated Dr. Heyzer in her opening remarks to the consultation.

With the world economy undergoing dramatic changes over the last few years, the modest economic growth achieved by the LLDCs during the last decade has recently come under increasing pressure due to successive global crises in the areas of finance, food, and fuel. Many are severely affected by the adverse impact of climate change.

Following on from this and looking ahead to the post-2015 development agenda, Dr. Heyzer highlighted the difficulty LLDCs have faced in achieving various MDGs, in particular the gender related ones on maternal mortality, hunger and child malnutrition: “We cannot not leave women and the next generation behind. The APoA for the next decade must be more people centred.”

The outcomes of this consultation will be placed at the Special Body on the LDCs and LLDCs during the 69th session of the Commission, to be held from 25 April to 1 May, 2013, before being transmitted to the Ten-Year Review Conference of the Almaty Programme of Action in 2014.