Least Developed & Landlocked Countries Deserve Action Programme for Next Decade to Achieve Inclusive & Sustainable Development

His Excellency Dr. Thongloun Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and Chair of the Group of LLDCs

His Excellency Mr. Sommad Pholsena, Minister of Public Works and Transport,
Government of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic

His Excellency Ambassador Saleumxay Kommasith, Permanent Representative of Lao PDR to the United Nations in New York and Chairperson, LLDC Coordination Bureau

His Excellency Mr. Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour for me to welcome you all to the ESCAP/OHRLLS/ECE/Government of Lao PDR Final Regional Review of the Almaty Programme of Action for the LLDCs (APoA). Our profound gratitude goes to Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and Chair of the Group of LLDCs, for gracing this event. Your leadership will guide us in conducting a highly successful review of the APoA. Please allow me, Excellency, to take this opportunity to also congratulate your Government in joining the WTO in February 2013 and successfully organizing the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM 9) in November 2012.

Our sincere appreciation goes to His Excellency Mr. Sommad Pholsena, Minister of Public Works and Transport, Government of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic for extending his full support in organizing this event in Vientiane.

I also thank H.E. Ambassador Saleumxay Kommasith, Permanent Representative of Lao PDR to the United Nations in New York and Chairperson, LLDC Coordination Bureau who has worked with LLDCs in convening this review here in Vientiane.

I would also like to thank Ambassador Ly Bounkham, Permanent Representative to ESCAP and Ambassador to Thailand for his untiring support.

My sincere appreciation goes to my colleague, His Excellency Mr. Gyan Chandra Acharya for his presence here today and in steering the global process for the final review of the APoA. My other colleague, the Executive Secretary of UN ECE could not be here today due to prior commitment. I recognize Ms. Eva Molnar, Director, Transport Division who is leading the UN ECE team. I offer my sincere thanks to UN ECE for extending their cooperation and contributing to this important conference.

Our appreciation also goes to the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for extending their untiring support to my ESCAP team in organizing this regional review here in Vientiane.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

As we gather here today in Vientiane to conduct the final regional ten-year review of the Almtay Programme of Action for the LLDCs, we must remind ourselves of the important tasks that are ahead of us. The review we conduct and the Outcome Document we adopt will form substantive input into the preparation of the ten-Year Review Conference of the Almaty Programme of Action, scheduled to be held in 2014 and to the post-2015 development agenda. I firmly believe that the LLDCs deserve a programme of action for the next decade that will help them in achieving inclusive and sustainable development with full international support.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn to the progress achieved and constraints encountered in implementing the 4 priority areas of the Almaty Programme of Action. As you all know, the implementation status of the programme by Asia-Pacific LLDCs was assessed in the Midterm Review Meeting in 2008. ESCAP in collaboration with the Government of Mongolia carried out another assessment in April 2011 which adopted the Ulaanbaatar Declaration, paving the way, among other things, for the establishment of the International Think Tank on LLDCs.

As regards transport infrastructure development, significant progress has been made in the past ten years thanks due also to enhanced support extended by the transit countries among other development partners. In this respect, the work of the ESCAP secretariat has been geared towards the realization of 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, infrastructure gaps still remain and must be closed in a manner that achieve inclusive and sustainable development. Since the agreements on the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway are important interventions for improving LLDCs’ access to regional and world markets, I would strongly urge those member States that have not done so yet to consider becoming Parties to these agreements. We regard LLDCs as Land Linked Developing Countries.

The LLDCs and transit countries in the region continue to face many challenges in implementing transit transport priorities under APoA. For instance, lack of a common framework for transit transport facilitation for the Asia- Pacific region is one of most difficult challenges to address. Many transit facilitation measures have been taken in relative isolation, leading to fragmented outcomes and possible synergies could not be realized. Moreover, the operational issues continue to impede transit transport due to rapid increase in the flow of goods, vehicles and people across the borders.

In order to start addressing these challenges, member States have adopted a common Regional Strategic Framework for the Facilitation of International Road Transport. The ESCAP secretariat has developed a set of transport facilitation models and established a Regional Network of Legal and Technical Experts for Transport Facilitation to support the implementation of the framework.

In my current role as chair of the Global Migration Group, we could also consider the issue of international migration in the context of employment and human resource development, as people are crossing borders in search of jobs.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed encouraging to see that the LLDCs and neighboring transit countries have made great effort to improve their trade competitiveness and trade facilitation. However, the new ESCAP – World Bank trade cost database released just a few weeks ago 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 because of the constraints they face due to their lack of access to the 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 Almaty Programme of Action, including the Lao PDR that has just fulfilled the conditions. As many as six countries in 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.

The exports of LLDCs continue to be characterized by a high concentration on a few commodities reflecting their poor productive capacities. We need to ensure duty-free-quota-free market access to our LDCs that are also landlocked. ESCAP member States made it very clear that more regional cooperation was needed in facilitating transit trade, when they adopted ESCAP Resolution 68/3 on “Enabling paperless trade and the cross-border recognition of electronic data and documents for inclusive and sustainable intraregional trade facilitation” during the 68th ESCAP Commission Session in May 2012.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

The progress in implementing the Almaty Programme of Action has thus been affected by the high structural vulnerability of the LLDCs. With the world economy undergoing dramatic changes over the last few years, those vulnerabilities have also been further accentuated. 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 also severely affected by the adverse impact of climate change. The economic crisis, especially the collapse in aggregate demand from developed countries through the trade channel, led to job and income losses especially in key export industries in the LLDCs. The unemployment rate has risen sharply in many of them, creating sharp socio-political repercussions in the absence of sufficient social protection programmes. Consequently, most LLDCs are finding it very difficult in achieving various development goals including the MDGs. In this situation, the most unmet MDG goals are gender related especially the goals on maternal mortality, hunger, and child malnutrition. We cannot leave woman and the next generation behind. The APoA for the next decade must be more people centered.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear that LLDCs, as a group of countries with special needs, need to be supported by the international community in their endeavour for inclusive and sustainable development. As a part of my resolve to assist our member states, I have recently established 3 new sub-regional offices to cater to the specific needs of member States and pay them a closer attention. The North and Central Asia Office has been established in Almaty in order to better address the Central Asian LLDCs. This office coordinates the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) that serves as a platform for this group of LLDCs to discuss and formulate various approaches towards the development of a cooperation framework for sustainable development.

The ESCAP's South and South-West Asia Office in New Delhi is assisting the three LLDCs in South Asia. Among other programmes, it has begun assisting Afghanistan in its WTO accession process through capacity-building of its government officials and other stakeholders jointly with the International Trade Centre. This Office has also developed a project for assisting landlocked countries in the region by strengthening their transport connectivity by integrating transport corridors between South and Central Asia.

Similarly, ESCAP’s SRO in Inchon is assisting Mongolia --- the sole LLDC in that sub-region --- and has carried out a study on major trade and transit corridors of Mongolia to assess the current situation and map out a course of action that could help lower the cost and time to trade.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Despite many challenges faced by LLDCs, I am optimistic. It is my conviction that 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 land bridges. For this we need not look any further than Lao PDR which is emerging as an important hub of transport corridors in the Greater Mekong region, and a significant regional and global development partner.

ESCAP and ECE accord high priority to the developmental needs of the LLDCs and stand ready to assist them in achieving inclusive and sustainable development. The Review of the Almaty Programme of Action provides to all the stakeholders, including transit countries and the private sector, an excellent opportunity to work together to identify a new agenda of work for addressing the remaining constraints, new opportunities and emerging challenges.

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen

You have a challenging agenda in front of you and it is my sincere hope that you will accomplish the goals and objectives that have brought us here today. I look forward to the adoption of the Outcome Document that could be submitted to the Commission at its 69th session for its consideration.

Once again, we thank you, Honorable Deputy Prime Minster, for gracing this event today.

I wish you success in your deliberations.

Thank you.