Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the Special Body on Least Developed, Landlocked Developing and Pacific Island Developing Countries.
For our deliberations today, I present to you document E/ESCAP/77/4, Summary of the Asia-Pacific Countries with Special Needs Development Report 2021: Strengthening the Resilience of Least Developed Countries in the Wake of the Coronavirus Disease Pandemic.
The document focuses on the development challenges of the region’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by taking stock of their progress made in implementing the Istanbul Programme of Action for LDCs, which concluded in 2020.
It also examines the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on these countries to provide perspectives on how the pandemic affects their prospects to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Please allow me to highlight key findings and progress that has been achieved by LDCs in implementing the Istanbul Programme of Action.
It is important to note that most of the LDCs in the Asia-Pacific region made significant progress in implementing the Istanbul Programme of Action.
During the decade 2011-2020 covered by the Programme, three countries were able to graduate from the LDC category, and another 10 of the region’s remaining 11 LDCs have met the criteria for graduation.
By the end of this decade, almost all LDCs in our region may have graduated.
This is clearly a sign of the development success of these countries.
However, the LDCs in our region have encountered significant challenges and continue to face vulnerabilities, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the economic front, in the final year of the implementation period of the Istanbul Programme of Action, GDP growth grew only at an estimated average of 3 per cent as compared to a pre-pandemic weighted average rate of 7.2 per cent.
The pandemic has caused widespread unemployment in LDCs, particularly in the informal sector.
It has led to contractions in exports from Asia-Pacific LDCs that were deeper than the global average.
At the same time, FDI flows and remittances appear to have declined because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, while the share of total official development assistance (ODA) allocated to all LDCs has already been on a declining trend.
On social development issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded existing social vulnerabilities.
Education systems have been severely disrupted by the pandemic, which may impact develop prospects for decades to come.
The pandemic has increased poverty rates and exacerbated existing inequalities, particularly those related to gender.
ESCAP analysis shows that up to an additional 12 million people could fall below the $3.20 daily income poverty line owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, while multidimensional poverty is also on the rise in the Asia-Pacific LDCs.
Indeed, as the nature of poverty in these countries is changing, addressing it has become much more complex.
At this critical juncture, governments, in their preparation for graduation and smooth transition, must acquire a much more holistic focus on sustainability.
We must acknowledge that economic growth alone is not sufficient to ensure sustainable development.
I encourage policymakers from LDCs as well as their development partners to initiate a sustained socio-economic recovery, including through strengthening public health and social protection systems.
To enhance resource mobilization efforts, a post-COVID-19 recovery strategy must be tailored to address the gaps that have held back financial deepening and to expand the range of financial products and services as a policy priority.
I welcome the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative for the poorest countries, including several Asia-Pacific LDCs, together with increased assistance in accessing COVID-19 vaccines to reduce additional pressure on governments’ fiscal space.
Let us strengthen productive capacity and promote structural economic transformation in addressing multidimensional poverty.
Governments need to increase their efforts to expand trade capacity and move up in the resilient regional value chains, with the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade being a promising initiative.
Investments must be scaled up to encourage carbon-neutral production and consumption systems and to enhance opportunities of digital technology.
In conclusion, the pandemic also provides an opportunity for Asia-Pacific LDCs to reassess their development strategies to ensure a smooth transition and to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Forging development cooperation and extending international support measures to LDC are essential policy tools in building back better and deepening resilience of the region’s most vulnerable countries— which is the LDCs.
The Special Body is invited to debate on the findings and policy considerations presented in this document and provide guidance to the secretariat on further support towards the implementation of the global programmes of action for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States of our region.
Your solution-oriented recommendations will be an important contribution in the process leading to the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in 2022.
I wish the Special Body every success.