Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries

Special Event on the Implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action and Way Forward

Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries

11 May 2011, Istanbul, Turkey

H.E. Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal, Prime Minister, Government of Nepal

H.E. Mr. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa

H.E. Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (TBC)

H.E. Mr. Ahmed Naseem, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Republic of Maldives

Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Secretary-General of the Fourth UN Conference on LDCs

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to extend a warm welcome to you all to this Special Event on the Implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action and Way Forward, organized by ESCAP in cooperation with the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

The presence here today of two heads of government is eloquent testimony to the critical success of Asia-Pacific’s coordinated voice on the development issues that we are focused on at this conference.

Our deep appreciation goes to H.E. Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal, Prime Minister, Government of Nepal. We are confident that, under your leadership, Nepal as the incoming Chair of the LDC Group, will spur fundamental improvements in the development status of LDCs.

I am grateful to Your Excellency Mr. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, the Prime Minister of Samoa for your untiring efforts in articulating a stronger voice for the Small Island Developing Countries of the region.

I am grateful to Your Excellency Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for your country’s significant accomplishments on behalf of the LDCs of Asia and the Pacific through the Dhaka Outcome.

My deep appreciation goes to H.E. Mr. Ahmed Naseem, Foreign Minister of the Maldives. We look forward to hearing from Your Excellency regarding the expectations and experiences of the Maldives as a newly graduated LDC of Asia-Pacific.

I am also pleased to welcome my colleague Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Secretary-General of the Fourth UN Conference on LDCs.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We meet today in the gateway city of Istanbul to establish the Asia-Pacific region’s voice for a new Programme of Action for LDCs for the next decade.   We assert the Dhaka Outcome Document, adopted January 2010 as the region’s final review of the Brussels Programme, presented by H.E. Mrs. Sheikh Hasina, the Honourable Prime of Bangladesh to the sixty-sixth session of the Commission, held in May 2010 in Incheon, Republic of Korea, endorsed by the Commission, and now transmitted to this Fourth United Nations Conference on LDCs.

The past decade was marked by multiple global economic crises, rolling back development gains in all regions. And despite significant progress achieved in meeting targeted growth rates and increasing investment ratios in a number of Asia-Pacific countries, the Brussels Programme of Action has remained an unfinished agenda for the region, as emphasized in the Dhaka Outcome Document.

The gap between those countries benefiting from the Asia-Pacific region’s high growth and the LDCs that have not, has widened significantly. The LDCs continue to suffer from the multiple effects of the food and energy crisis of 2008, the global economic crisis of 2009 and the consequences of climate change. Many of the hardest-hit LDCs face the resumption this year of rising food and fuel prices, in addition to stubbornly high poverty rates, high unemployment, reduced earnings from remittances, social stress and increased ecological vulnerability.

The LDCs also face widening disparities both between as well as within their economies in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Glaring urban-rural and gender-based disparities make difficult the challenge of eliminating hunger and reducing child and maternal mortality.

Among the LDCs, those which are landlocked face additional barriers due to their geographical location. Their isolation from major markets and their lack of transport access separates them from the region’s growing dynamism — they are often the hardest hit by rapid global economic swings. Similarly, the LDCs which are small island states are made vulnerable by their geographic remoteness and exposure to climate change.

These continuing challenges, and new and emerging threats, such as the resumption of food and fuel price increases, can only be expected to intensify the development gaps faced by the Asia-Pacific LDCs during the next decade.   These threats underscore the critical need for new policies and innovative approaches in adopting and implementing a new LDC Programme of Action; that is the responsibility that lies with us today.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In the coming decade, the Asia-Pacific LDCs will need significantly increased regional and international support in order to meet their development challenges more effectively. In my view, areas that need particular attention are promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth, productive capacity development, expanding social protections for poverty reduction, expanding connectivity and regional integration particularly through trade and infrastructure development, mobilizing resources for development and coping with climate change effects.

Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

One of the most significant challenges facing the Asia-Pacific LDCs is to promote inclusive and sustainable growth for reducing poverty and improving the quality of life of their people. Such growth requires measures to strengthen social protections along economic policies that focus on sharing the benefits of growth with all segments of society. A critical concern for the LDCs is to introduce deliberate pro-inclusiveness changes in growth patterns and government policies so that the benefits of growth can be shared more equally. Households headed by women and women farmers need to be recognized as new sources of economic growth in the poorest communities and market sectors.

Increasing Productive Capacities

LDCs should take steps to increase their manufacturing and productive capacity over the medium term if they are to benefit from regional integration and regional connectivity. For this purpose, these countries must go beyond producing or increasing the output of existing products. If LDCs are to climb the rungs of the development ladder, they need to produce and trade more diverse and innovative products – the goods and services that are desired in our communities, by women entrepreneurs for example, and across a broader regional marketplace.

Recent ESCAP estimates show that productive capacity in Asia-Pacific LDCs has declined in the last 20 years compared with the global average. The 14 Asia-Pacific LDCs exported on average only 542 different types of products and were in competition with 105 other economies that exported products of same export mix. Asia-Pacific LDCs fall well below the world average in product diversification. Between 1984 and 2009, the average diversification of countries rose from 968 to 1,868 products. And for the average LDC, the number of countries exporting a similar product mix increased from 41 to 91 in this same time period.

We need to bring a focus on productive capacities back to the core of the development agenda; economic development should be associated not with producing more of the same goods and services but with diversification – expanding the range and sophistication of what we produce. Targeted assistance and strategies are required for the improvement of LDCs’ productive capacities. Governments and the private sector must coordinate efforts for replicating successful business models. LDCs will need to pursue trade, finance and infrastructure policies to promote strategic diversification and increases in their productive capacities. Innovative policies first and foremost require effective governmental leadership.

Social Development and Social Protections

The prospect for achieving the MDGs by 2015 depends on improving access to basic services and narrowing internal disparities. Reducing poverty and ensuring equitable sharing of economic prosperity will be an important step forward in mitigating social imbalances in the region’s LDCs. Social and infrastructural investments doubly help by transforming the vast numbers of the poor into markets of new consumers, generating economic demand within countries and across the region.

In this decade, our policy agenda must also address rising income inequality and other disparities. LDCs must reduce inequality, or at least hold it constant. Food and fuel price rises threaten to widen the existing social inequalities as the poor are forced to spend more and more of their limited income on food items. The LDCs need to promote pro-poor activities such as employment in agriculture, in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and in the informal sector. Government investments in education, health, and other basic services for the poor and vulnerable groups are essential.

Social protection can be an effective instrument for reducing inequality as well as protecting the vulnerable groups in times of economic and social distress. A minimum floor of social security benefits for all citizens could include (i) universal access to essential health services; (ii) income security for all children through benefits; (iii) access to basic social assistance for the poor and the unemployed; and (iv) income security through basic pensions for people in old age and people living with disabilities.

Infrastructure and Connectivity

A huge constraint on LDCs’ efforts to promote growth and reduce poverty is the limited availability and the poor quality of infrastructure, limiting the scope for further investment, employment, output and income for our people. The resource requirements for bridging or even narrowing the infrastructure gaps between urban and rural areas are substantial. Improving infrastructure within countries and between countries must be part of a new development paradigm with the strategic goal of becoming more connected and more regionally integrated to generate rapid growth and development.

Regional Integration

Improving connectivity at regional and sub-regional levels will immediately benefit economic activity between neighbouring border areas which tend to be the more remote and poorer regions in respective countries. For those LDCs which are also landlocked, physical links between them and the transit countries can bring enormous benefits to both groups of countries as they can better harness external markets, expand domestic demand and benefit from the region’s dynamic growth performance. Existing regional cooperation frameworks can be strengthened to face the challenges collectively. Concerted and bold actions are needed for evolving a broader framework for economic integration at the regional level. The contours of such a framework would include the development of regional transportation networks, improvements in social connectivity and increased use of information technologies.

Environmentally Sustainable Development

LDCs cannot ignore the necessity of environmentally sustainable development. The ecological imbalances of the degradation of key natural resources such as forests, freshwater sources, and coastal marine areas risk permanent damage to populations and communities. The increased frequency of droughts and other extreme weather events associated with climate change will continue to adversely affect food production and the livelihoods of a large majority of the people living in rural and fragile areas. Ensuring food security will become increasingly more difficult in these stressed countries as population grows. Our new approaches must protect our natural capital and address ecological imbalances by enhancing the efficiency of natural resource use, preserving biodiversity, reducing waste generation, and adapting to the effects of climate change in their growth process.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Since the adoption of the Brussels Programme of Action for the decade 2001-2010, we have travelled a long and difficult path. We have seen extraordinary efforts on the part of the LDCs to meet unprecedented challenges as well as efforts to unleash the creative energies of their peoples to address these challenges. Realizing the untapped potential of women farmers and entrepreneurs alone will directly spur economic growth in the poorest communities. For the people of the LDCs of Asia-Pacific, let us ensure that the next Programme of Action, and the next ten years will truly bring a transformation in their efforts to make a better life for their children. Let that be our focus today.

I thank you for your kind attention.