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This paper provides an assessment of the progress made and challenges encountered by least developed countries (LDCs) in Asia and the Pacific in implementing the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020 (Istanbul Programme of Action). While noting that 10 of the region’s 11 LDCs have already met the criteria for graduation from the LDC category, this paper finds the Programme not being fully implemented. The progress in building productive capacities and achieving structural transformation is limited in most Asia-Pacific LDCs. This makes these economies vulnerable to external shocks as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inadequate provision of social protection and public services to poor and marginalized groups as well as limited financial resources have further compromised their abilities to achieve economic and social resilience.

The paper takes the view that there is no need to develop a completely new set of action plans for the next decade (2021-2030). The attention should rather concentrate on making these actions more practical and effective. For example, productive capacity development and structural transformation would require a more strategic focus on producing more complex and differentiated products. To reduce vulnerability of people and communities, investment needs to be scaled up urgently in social sectors, especially in public healthcare and social protection systems. To gear up the process of graduation, LDCs will need to mainstream graduation issues into their national development plans and prepare strategies in a timely manner.

The paper also suggests the next decadal LDC programme to (a) develop quantifiable indicators for meaningful progress assessment exercises; (b) align actions with the Sustainable Development Goals as the next programme of action coincides with the last 10 years of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and finally (c) highlight the importance of continued support from development partners to ensure sustainable and smooth graduation given the potentially large number of graduating LDCs, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.

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