UN to Explore Improving Market Access for Landlocked Developing Countries

The Asia-Pacific region is home to 12 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), most of which are located in Central Asia and the Caucusus. Goods from these countries must pass through their neighbours’ territories in order to reach international markets, increasing their transport costs—and hindering the development of these countries. While some LLDCs are experiencing remarkable growth, many still lag behind the rest of the region, with average GDP growth rates reaching only half the rate of nearby countries.

In recognition of the special needs of these countries, the United Nations adopted in 2003 the Almaty Programme of Action, designed to link landlocked countries to sea ports through the development of better transport systems. Experts from Asia and Europe will meet to examine the progress on implementing the Almaty Programme on 22 and 23 April 2008 at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok.

The meeting is being organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

Achieving better markets access for LLDCs means that countries that border the sea must ease regulations and tariffs for goods that cross their borders. This requires the adoption of multilateral and bilateral agreements, of which several have already been agreed upon or ratified. Accession to the World Trade Organization, which eight of the region’s LLDCs have yet to achieve, is also critical for improving market access.

One example is the Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR Carnets. This agreement allows goods to travel by road without being inspected by customs officials at every international border, as long as goods adhere to security and safety requirements. Goods traveling under this agreement must be issued special documents. Since the Almaty Programme was adopted in 2003, the growth in the issuance of these documents had grown by more than 100% in at least 11 LLDCs and transit countries.

While relaxing regulations and tariffs is one way to help LLDCs to achieve prosperity, the physical distance from sea ports is another major obstacle. Building roads, railway lines and other transport infrastructure is the second piece required to help these countries to find new markets for their goods. ESCAP has been helping to address this problem through creation of the Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway Network.

Nine of the region’s LLDCs are parties to the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network. The network, which covers 141,000 kilometres of roads in 32 member States, also provides links to ports in Europe. At the same time, eight LLDCs have signed The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network, which covers 81,000 kilometres of rail network in 28 countries.

The Bangkok meeting will review the progress made in implementing the Almaty Programme of Action and discuss strategy for further implementation. Presentations will be made by landlocked developing countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; and by transit countries including China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Russian Federation.

The meeting will be attended by Ms. Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, and Mr. Cheikh Sidi Diarra, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.