The year 2024 marks the conclusion of the implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action for the landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) for the decade 2014-20241 (VPoA). The 5 Asian LLDCs2have achieved mixed progress in the six priority areas of the Programme during the period to 2021. Many of them experienced robust economic growth and significant poverty reduction. However, the overall achievement of the LLDCs in implementing the VPoA during the reporting period remained mixed and varied with many gaps and missed opportunities. The LLDCs continued to face severe challenges, making them some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable countries of Asia-Pacific region. Their isolation from important global markets with no direct access to sea imposed excessive transport and transit costs on their exports and imports, making them less competitive in international market. The overall underdeveloped nature of their infrastructure and gaps in their transport and transit infrastructure have continued to hold back their progress. This has also prevented them from benefiting from regional and global integration process. Structural economic transformation continues to be slow and undiversified with most of them dependent on few natural resources for growth and development. For most part, they have remained dependent on official development assistance and other forms of external flows to grow sustainably and deepen their development process.
The second half of the VPoA decade has proven to be particularly challenging for them which were severely affected by the adverse economic, social, and environmental impacts of Covid-193. With support from international community and concerted domestic efforts, the Asian LLDCs4 were well on their way to recovery from these adverse impacts and were engaged in exploring innovative sources of financing to support their sustainable recovery5. But the respite from Covid-19 proved to be short-lived and the LLDCs are now confronted with high rates of global inflation, soaring food and energy prices, exorbitant interest rates, and geo-political tensions created by the Ukrainian crisis. Global recession has become a real possibility6. Poverty and inequality are on the rise7. It is quite possible that these on-going unprecedented challenges will eliminate or compromise some of the progress made by this group of countries in implementing the VPoA and achieving the SDGs8. The goal of eliminating poverty by 2030 will also be missed with all indications that global progress in reducing extreme poverty is grinding to a halt9. Despite this dismal emerging economic environment, the LLDCs as a group have made concerted efforts in terms of undertaking wide range of policy reforms and measures as well as invested considerable financial and human resources in implementing the VPoA. They have addressed the fundamental transit policy issues and invested resources in infrastructure development and maintenance. Some progress has been noted in promoting participation in international trade and trade integration. The LLDCs in general have demonstrated heightened interest in fostering greater regional cooperation and integration and some managed to make modest structural economic transformation. In the area of means of implementation, efforts have gone into mobilizing both internal and external resources for sustainable development.
After the introductory section I, the paper in section II offers a comprehensive and quantitative analysis of the progress made, constraints encountered, and lessons learnt in implementing the VPoA during the decade of 2014-2024 by five Asian LLDCs under the six priority areas of the VPoA. An assessment will also be made whether and how their progress in implementing the VPoA has helped them to overcome or attenuate the adverse impacts of their structural weaknesses such as the lack of territorial access to sea, physical remoteness from important international markets, and lack of scale economies and limited resource endowments. In section III, a brief overview of issues for consideration in the next programme of action for the LLDCs including accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building climate-resilient infrastructure in key sectors such as transport, energy, and information and communication technologies and creating green jobs, promoting sustainable regional and subregional connectivity, and exploring new generation of sustainable financing for infrastructure development will be presented.