Increased Development Assistance, Partnerships, Critical to Transforming Economies of Least Developed Countries, Speakers Say, as Programme of Action Review Opens

The world's 48 poorest countries were an enormous resource for global prosperity, but without redoubled efforts to help them enhance productivity, diversify their economies and weather external shocks, the full potential of their 900 million citizens would remain untapped, high-level speakers stressed today as the Midterm Review for the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries opened in Antalya, Turkey.

Held under the theme of "Partnership for Transformative Change in Least Developed Countries", the three-day conference will take stock of progress made in implementing the Istanbul Programme of Action adopted in 2011 to help countries in eight priority areas: productive capacity; agriculture, nutrition and rural development; trade; commodities; human and social development; multiple crises and emerging challenges; financial resources; and good governance.

"Without building resilience, least developed countries will find it difficult, in spite of good intentions by everyone involved, to achieve long-term sustainable development," said Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives of Bangladesh, in opening remarks on behalf of those nations. "It is important for us to refocus and redirect our work to achieve the visions of the Istanbul Programme of Action."

Indeed, he said, least developed countries' average 7 per cent growth in the first decade of the millennium had fallen significantly, as a number of them had suffered natural hazards, public health crises and economic shocks, and others in conflict- and post-conflict situations had faced obstacles to nation-building.

He expressed deep concern at the insufficient official development assistance (ODA) allotted to them, noting that, while they were doing their utmost to mobilize domestic resources, their economic base was "very narrow". Enabling half of the least developed countries to meet the criteria for graduation, as called for in the Istanbul Programme of Action, required "ambitious and concerted" efforts by the entire international community.

"We need to develop new partnerships and follow up on these processes," said Mevlut Cavu?o?lu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey as the President of the Midterm Review. Productivity must be increased, infrastructure enhanced and greater financial and technical support provided. Global promises must be kept, as there was still a long way to go. "If we work together, we can create an enriched world," he said, "otherwise, we will all lose."

Broadly agreeing, Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark), President of the General Assembly, said people living in poverty could not afford to wait for future opportunities. The agreements that had been set in New York, Addis Ababa and Paris, alongside the Programme of Action, provided a clear guide for global efforts. It was now time to forge partnerships to advance least developed countries' structural transformation and ensure the graduation of at least half of them over the next five years.

Delivering a statement for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), agreed that progress had been uneven. ODA alone would not be enough. Public-private partnerships and North-South and South-South initiatives were needed to bolster those efforts.

In the ensuing debate, high-level officials from least developed countries around the world highlighted achievements in building their social, financial and productive capacities and domesticating the Istanbul Programme of Action's 48 objectives into national development plans. At the same time, some recalled, in 1971, there had been 25 States listed as least developed countries. Today, there were 48. Truly transforming their economies hinged on how well wealthy partners fulfilled their pledges.

That call was made clearly by Thana Duangratana, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, who said that 47 of the 48 least developed countries were members of the Group. Their share of global trade was declining and action was required to fulfil pledges for duty-free and quota-free market access. He expressed concern at the minimal representation of least developed countries in the global economic and financial architecture, stressing that, without such representation, they would never be able to overcome their marginal situation.

That was especially true for countries in conflict situations, said Wahi Taha Abdullah Aman, Minister of Public Works and Highways of Yemen, stressing that partnership was in the interest of the entire international community, notably to prevent armed groups from exploiting living conditions. Since 2014, industrial production in Yemen had halted, armed groups had taken over the capital and the health, water and sanitation sectors had been paralysed.

Manasseh Maelanga, Deputy Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, said his country was a least developed country, a small island developing State and a post-conflict nation. As such, he believed support for least developed countries must be tailored to each country's unique situation.

Along similar lines, Kamal Thapa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, said that, while his country was integrating the Istanbul Programme of Action into national efforts, earthquakes in 2015 had "shattered" the country's goal of graduation Given current challenges, the need for constant support for least developed countries was never greater.

Mothetjoa Metsing, Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho, noting that his country was working to graduate from least developed status, cited constraints on productive capacity, export growth, trade and investment flows and health challenges.

Noting that his country was surrounded by least developed countries, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, Minister for External Relations of Cameroon, said fiscal and customs reform in Central Africa had allowed for easing tax burden in the region. It also had seen the creation of the Central African Banking Commission and efforts to set up a multilateral surveillance tool to coordinate budgetary and monetary policies to promote convergence.

A representative of the European Union said that, as the largest collective ODA donor, it was working to meet the target of 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to least developed countries in the short term, and the 0.20 per cent target within the 2030 Agenda time frame. The Union provided duty-free and quota-free access to the European market for all products originating in those countries, except arms and ammunition.

Still other speakers said the classic ODA was outdated, with Christiaan Rebergen, Vice-Minister for International Cooperation of the Netherlands, noting that his Government had launched a fund to finance Dutch businesses interested in investing in developing countries and to finance local businesses in those countries.

Sharing the experience of having graduated from least-developed-country status in 2011, the representative of the Maldives said that his country was a classic example of the "island paradox", in that despite growth, it remained vulnerable to external shocks. The existing graduation criteria were inadequate, as they failed to focus on the inherent and extreme vulnerability of graduating countries due to geographical and structural limits.

Further, he said, the economic vulnerability index currently being used was flawed, as it ignored key considerations such as environmental vulnerabilities, import dependency and geographic dispersion and isolation. Continued international assistance was essential and the structural flaws of the graduation system must be addressed.

Also delivering remarks during the opening segment were ministers from Benin (as the former Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries), and Chad (on behalf of the African Union), as well as representatives of the European Commission, World Bank, LDC Watch (on behalf of civil society) and the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (on behalf of the private sector).

During the general exchange of views, the Vice-Presidents of Liberia and Ghana and the Prime Minister of Namibia addressed the plenary, as did Government officials and representatives of Burundi, Sweden, Bhutan, Tuvalu, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Niger, Algeria, Sudan, Senegal, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Italy, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Burkina Faso, Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Angola, Belgium, Uganda and Luxembourg, as well as the State of Palestine.

The Midterm Review for the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries will continue at 10 a.m. on Saturday, 28 May.

Opening Remarks

MEVLAT CAVU?O?LU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey and President of the Midterm Review, said that in the coming days, participants would evaluate progress made since the 2011 Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) held in Istanbul. "We need to develop new partnerships and follow up on these processes," he stressed. Finding solutions was a human duty. The 900 million people living in least developed countries were an important resource. Productivity must be increased, infrastructure enhanced and greater financial and technical support provided.

Noting that aid to least developed countries had fallen in recent years, he urged ensuring that global promises were kept. It was vital to ensure that trade and investment contributed to their prosperity. The share of LDCs in global trade must be increased and their lack of infrastructure addressed. As 210 million people in those countries lacked access to adequate nutrition, it was also vital to support agriculture.

Further, he said, technology and science in least developed countries must be enhanced so they could achieve structural transformation. Employment and strong growth would be realized if the international community helped pave the way in the area of education. Turkey was prepared to do its part, having provided $11 million in aid and capacity-building. During Turkey's presidency of the Group of 20, it had made development a priority and had outlined an action plan for Africa.

"We still have a long way to go," he said, stressing the importance of the declaration to be adopted. "If we work together, we can create an enriched world," he said. "Otherwise, we will all lose."

MOGENS LYKKETOFT (Denmark), President of the General Assembly, said that, on the heels of the World Humanitarian Summit, the Midterm Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action underlined the importance of ensuring that world leaders were at the centre of efforts to achieve human rights and sustainable development. Those efforts were at the heart of the Programme and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and those principles represented primary challenges for driving forward the implementation of universal sustainable development.

"People living in poverty cannot afford to wait for future opportunities," he said, emphasizing that the time for action was now. The agreements that had been set in New York, Addis Ababa and Paris, alongside the Programme of Action, provided a clear guide for action. The Declaration of the high-level meeting of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly had referred to commitments that, if implemented, would support least developed countries. It was now necessary to engage in partnerships to advance their structural transformation and ensure the graduation of at least half of those countries over the next five years.

HELEN CLARK, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), delivering a statement for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressed hope that the Review would advance progress for least developed countries. Progress had been uneven and those States must remain at the centre of development efforts, she said, calling for the revitalization of partnerships so donor countries could meet their commitments to support LDCs. However, official development assistance (ODA) would not be enough, she said, calling for public-private partnerships and North-South and South-South initiatives to bolster efforts.

Speaking in her capacity as head of UNDP, she said many of the least development countries had indeed seen progress towards graduation criteria, with examples reflected in national reports. Yet, challenges remained and progress must accelerate in the Programme of Action's eight priority areas. Citing examples of UNDP assistance in that regard, she said mining programmes were operating in 17 countries, poverty eradication efforts were under way in 12 countries and rural development initiatives had responded to a range of crises, including in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. Identifying current challenges was now critical, she said, as they would guide future efforts with a view to getting least developed countries across the graduation finish line.

ABDOULAYE BIO TCHANA�, Senior Minister for Planning and Development and Special Envoy of the President ofBenin and former Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that, in recent decades, Turkey had achieved development thanks to political will, good governance and international cooperation. That was what African countries aspired to achieve, taking charge of their development thanks to internal reforms and international support that helped to create jobs and other opportunities. The Fourth Conference had aimed to help least developed countries overcome their many challenges. Given the ambitious agenda, it was imperative to assess progress, including by sharing best practices and identifying constraints and measures to overcome them.

"There is much work to be done," he said, noting that, over the last year, a number of changes had been made with the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, all of which represented historic milestones. As such, it was necessary to amend implementation strategies of the Istanbul Programme of Action to take advantage of new synergies that would benefit least developed countries.

For its part, Benin had been privileged to chair the global coordination bureau for least developed countries, he said, noting that his President was committed to enhancing economic growth and development though the private sector and women's empowerment, among other things. Benin would work, with assistance from others, to create inclusive and more stable growth. Its action plan aimed at re-establishing a State that respected democracy, with goals of reforming domestic institutions, boosting growth, raising internal resources, improving financial management, promoting information and communications technology (ICT) and ensuring social protections.

More broadly, Africa had shown resilience in the face of economic crises, he said, expressing hope that least developed countries would benefit from the dividend of global policies.

KHANDKER MOSHARRAF HOSSAIN, Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives ofBangladesh, Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that, because of their inherent structural weaknesses, those States always suffered most in any national, regional or international crisis. While they had achieved an average 7 per cent growth in the first decade of the millennium, that growth had fallen significantly, as a number of them had suffered natural disasters, public health crises and economic shocks, while those in conflict- and post-conflict situations faced obstacles to nation-building.

As recently adopted development agendas had acknowledged, least developed countries required differential and preferential treatment, he said, stressing the importance of refocusing and redirecting work to achieve the vision of the Istanbul Programme of Action. In that context, he expressed deep concern at the insufficient ODA allotted by developed countries to least developed countries, expressing hope that the target of 0.2 per cent of gross national income would soon be realized. He thanked countries providing 50 per cent of that assistance to least developed countries and called on all partners to follow that lead.

Moreover, he emphasized the importance of domestic resource mobilization, and while noting that least developed countries were prioritizing that issue, he recalled that their economic base was "very narrow", making international support vital. He called on developed countries, and developing countries in a position to do so, to provide duty-free and quota-free market access to all products from least developed countries, in line with World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial decisions. It was also important to implement "LDC-friendly" rules of origin, as such steps were necessary to double their share of global exports.

Unilateral economic measures must be lifted, he continued, also welcoming recommendations to be made by the Governing Council of the United Nations technology bank for that mechanism's full operationalization. He also welcomed the recommendation in the draft political declaration to work on the issue of investment-promotion regimes for least developed countries, at the highest level of the United Nations system. Noting that many nationals of least developed countries were migrants abroad, making positive contributions to other countries' growth, he urged international cooperation to ensure the safe, humane treatment of migrants regardless of their migration status.

"Without building resilience, least developed countries will find it difficult, in spite of good intentions by everyone involved, to achieve long-term sustainable development," he said, looking forward to the study of modalities for resilience-building, as recommended in the draft political declaration. It was also important that the least developed country category was recognized by all United Nations organizations. "Without a stronger presence and voice in the global economic governance, least developed countries cannot be expected to contribute in a more meaningful manner in global economic activities," he said, urging their increased participation also in international financial institutions.

He said that reaching the graduation criteria by 2020 required "ambitious and concerted" efforts by least developed countries, development partners, the United Nations, parliamentarians, civil society - and the entire international community. With that, he summarized a pre-conference meeting held on 26 May in Bangladesh on building the human capital for sustainable development in least developed countries.

MOUSSA FAKI MAHAMAT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chad, speaking on behalf of the African Union, said that because 33 of the 48 least developed countries were in Africa, bridging the gap between rich and poor States would be key. Coherent development policies were needed, he said, adding that the Union's Agenda 2063 focused on boosting infrastructure development and addressing economic growth. The United Nations must respond to efforts to help the least developed countries.

African States faced a range of obstacles, he said. The impact of climate change had severe consequences for those countries, threatening the lives of millions. African countries faced drought, El NiAo and other phenomenon, he said, commending the international community for concluding the Paris Agreement. Terrorism, trafficking and cross-border crime were also scourges facing some African States, he said, citing examples of regional efforts, including setting up forces to combat Boko Haram. Moving forward, the Sendai Framework, Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Paris Agreement needed to be addressed and the synergies between them needed to be identified and acted upon.

NEVEN MIMICA, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, said that amid recent commitments made on a range of agreements, a global framework now shaped the path towards progress, with a clear recognition that least developed countries deserved special attention. The Review should help least developed countries get back on track.

Seeking to further strengthen partnerships with least developed countries based on their national strategies, he said, the European Union aimed at helping to address some of the serious challenges hampering sustainable development. European Commission member States were dedicated to almost doubling ODA to 2 per cent, he said, adding that trade was an area that could be enhanced. The Union also remained committed to contributing to climate financing for related programmes, amounting to about Euros 2 billion annually between 2014 and 2020.

SRI MULYANI INDRAWATI, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of the World Bank Group, said that least developed countries had great potential to contribute to sustainable development efforts. The current Review came at a critical time, when the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals had represented a path forward for the world's poorest. Targeted World Bank funds for those countries represented one way to address pressing challenges. Working with public- and private-sector entities was delivering results in the 77 poorest countries in the world. Between 2011 and 2015, the Bank had channelled $43 billion towards least developed countries, she said, citing a range of examples, including the provision of solar power to 3.7 million people in rural Bangladesh, connecting an additional 50,000 homes every month.

Despite gains in eradicating extreme poverty, she said, challenges remained in bridging income disparity gaps. To address that concern, the Bank was providing services and programmes that fostered development, including through good governance, economic growth and gender equality. Least developed countries required strong financing and support, she said, asking the global community to do their part to help the world's poorest move towards sustained economic growth.

GAURI PRADHAN, International Coordinator of LDC Watch, representing civil society, appreciated that it had been recognized as a key stakeholder. The LDC Civil Society Forum of the Midterm Review had brought together civil society representatives from the global South and North. They had embarked on deliberations with the hope that the alternatives of civil society in least developed countries, in collaboration with global civil society, would be heard. In the five years since 2011, the structural causes of poverty in least developed countries had been dominant. Progress in the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action had been uneven, both among and within countries.

A "disinclined" global economic environment and inadequate delivery of the commitments of development partners had made civil society dismayed about prospects for any significant structural transformation, he said. Growing violence, instability and conflict in least developed countries were symptoms of the "grinding" poverty and injustices they faced, he said, calling also for climate justice for the least developed countries, which were least responsible but most affected by that phenomenon.

Further, he called on least developed countries and their partners to engage in a genuine partnership for development, placing least developed countries at the centre of such cooperation. LDCs must show political leadership in terms of ownership, while partners must deliver the means of implementation and policy coherence, he said, urging mutual accountability and transparency at national, regional and international levels.

OMER CIHAD VARDAN, President of the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, representing the private sector, said the Board was responsible for developing his country's private sector. Established in 1986, it operated through 133 business councils around the world, 126 of them country-based. At the recent World Humanitarian Summit, it had signed a statement titled "Humanity is Our First Business", committing to help people facing crises, which the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General had signed.

"Least developed countries are important members of the international community and their economic development and social progress are closely related to world peace and stability," he said, underscoring the collective responsibility to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Touching on highlights from the Private Sector Forum held on 26 May, he recalled that, in 1971, there had been 25 States listed as least developed countries. Today, there were 48 - home to nearly 950 million people. In the last 40 years, only three had graduated from least developed country status and their total trade remained marginal.

From a "smart investment" perspective, it was clear that an investment framework with less bureaucracy was needed and that foreign direct investment (FDI) must be encouraged, he said. Throughout the day, participants had underlined the words leadership, trust and time, he said, noting that all ingredients for successful partnerships were available - except time. "We don't have a minute to waste," he said.

Statements

JOSEPH NYUMA BOAKAI, Vice-President of Liberia, said the first national five-year development plan, adopted in 2012, had focused on key pillars, including peace, justice, security, human development and cross-cutting issues. Outlining progress and challenges, he said the Ebola crisis and declining global commodity prices had affected the Programme of Action's implementation. The Government had targeted building capacities in business development and creating an enabling environment for multinational investments and local manufacturing entities to work together in encouraging competitiveness for mutual economic benefits. National priorities included energy and power sectors, road transport infrastructure and agriculture. As a country rising from the ashes of conflict and emerging from the Ebola crisis, Liberia remained committed to achieving its goals and, with support from regional and global partners, was more than confident that success was assured.

KWESI BEKOE AMISSAH-ARTHUR, Vice-President of Ghana, said security threats, low commodity prices and declining ODA were making it difficult to overcome the structural rigidities confronting the economies of least developed countries. Development-oriented regional integration initiatives could offset individual weaknesses and create the foundation on which international support could help to minimize the instabilities and vulnerabilities of the global economy. "Our countries possess enormous human and national resources that can aid economic growth and prosperity," he said. For its part, Ghana had incorporated Programme of Action goals into its national development plans. Immediate action, however, was needed to help countries cope with climate change consequences, he said, urging all States to ratify the Paris Agreement.

SAARA KUUGONGELWA-AMADHILA HANDING, Prime Minister of Namibia, said that, amid a rush of commitments to various development-related instruments, services were still lacking to reach two thirds of people in rural areas of least developed countries. Rural development must be central to the progress required for those countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and for sustainable urbanization, with the international community's assistance. While progress had been made in areas such as access to information and communications technology, infrastructure expansion and reducing child and maternal mortality rates, more needed to be done to address high incidences of poverty and other challenges. Strong political will and commitment at national and international levels must lead the way forward, she said, emphasizing that areas of concern included removing trade barriers and mitigating consequences of climate change.

KAMAL THAPA, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, said the Programme of Action's full implementation remained a challenge. National efforts must be complemented by adequate international support to help Governments overcome shortcomings that had resulted in only four least developed States graduating out of poverty since 1971, when that country grouping had been created. The Action Programme should serve as a guide to collaborating with development partners and forging solidarity in international forums. Poverty was the main hurdle, and with exclusion, fostered a breeding ground for conflicts and disabled development. For its part, Nepal was implementing the Programme of Action, integrating it into national efforts; however, earthquakes in 2015 had "shattered" the goal of graduation, with costs of those disasters estimated at $8.4 billion. Given current challenges, including climate change consequences, the need for constant support for least developed countries was never greater.

ZIAD ABU AMR, Deputy Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, noting that his delegation had taken part in the Fourth Conference, said that its solidarity was part of its commitment to least developed countries. At the upcoming Habitat III conference, it would assert the importance of providing technical assistance to those nations through the establishment of lasting settlements. He welcomed the idea for a global infrastructure forum to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, stressing that Palestine planned to support least-developed-country goals in related meetings. Those States required greater financial support to overcome obstacles to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which in turn required developed countries to live up to their financial commitments, especially those made in Addis Ababa. Citing Palestine's experience in education and the banking sector, he said that, since it was not a donor, it had established the Palestinian Agency for International Cooperation that organized training and capacity-building sessions, in line with the 2030 Agenda.

MANASSEH MAELANGA, Deputy Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, said the Programme of Action had been translated to fit his country's national development strategy 2016-2030, which focused on inclusive economic growth, poverty alleviation, disaster risk management and access to health and education, among other things. Noting that the Solomon Islands was a least developed country, a small island developing State and a post-conflict nation, he said support for least developed countries must be tailored to each one's unique situation. Without transport, communications and energy, it was challenging to deliver education and health to a population scattered over many islands and to build a nation with shared opportunities for all. Greater resources for crisis mitigation and resilience were essential in addressing climate change, as was simplifying access to climate finance and support for the statistical and data systems that provided evidence for decision-making.

MOTHETJOA METSING, Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho, associating himself with the Group of Least Developed Countries, said his Government was working to graduate from least-developed-country status through its strategic development plan. It was critical to integrate the internationally agreed vision of the Istanbul Programme of Action. Citing constraints on productive capacity, export growth, trade and investment flows and health challenges, he said per-capita income was above graduation criteria, but lower than $2.84. Lesotho had redoubled efforts to improve its competitiveness in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and service sectors such as tourism and construction. Its 62.9 human-development ranking was higher than the average 51.5 for least developed countries. As Lesotho's landlocked status undermined its export competitiveness, it had modernized customs procedures and rules to improve the ease of doing business. Noting that the recent state of emergency had increased food prices, he hoped the United Nations would help it reach graduation targets through the provision of required resources.

EDOUARD NDUWIMANA, Deputy Speaker of Parliament of Burundi, said his country had devised a strategic framework for economic growth and poverty eradication, focused on economic, social, environmental and political factors. It aimed to strengthen the rule of law and good governance, transform the economy and address environmental management. While funds mobilized by his Government had fallen short, the mobilization of such resources and fiscal policy had been strengthened over the years, even amid increasing needs. He encouraged partners that had suspended assistance to "rethink their decisions", as the political and security situation was dire. Unconditional support in implementing the framework was essential to eradicate poverty. Underscoring the importance of national ownership of delivering on commitments, including in natural resources, he said Burundi was working to ensure that natural wealth was evenly distributed. He underlined the importance of trade, citing legislative and regulatory reforms made over the last decade to enhance the business environment. Leading countries should help developing countries industrialize in ways that created jobs, especially for youth.

ARDALAN SHEKARABI, Minister for Public Administration of Sweden, said that national efforts to help least developed countries included working for their integration into the multilateral trading system. On climate change, Sweden aimed at becoming the first fossil-fuel-free welfare nation in the world and was taking a lead on climate finance. "Those most in need should be the first in line," he said, challenging States to follow Sweden's lead and live up to promises made. Rising inequality must be reversed and the universality of the new development agenda must not divert the current focus. Least developed countries needed special attention, he said, underlining one promise that had been made - to leave no one behind.

LYONPO DAMCHO DORJI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, said that the new commitments had, for least developed countries, signalled a source of encouragement to reinvigorate efforts to foster further national progress. National plans had included the Programme of Action's priority areas, with progress seen in socioeconomic and environmental initiatives. Yet, efforts needed to be redoubled on the economic front and climate change challenges reflected the need to build resilience. Development was not a zero-sum game, he said, emphasizing the importance of development partners to help unlock the tremendous potential in all least developed countries.

OTINIELU TAUTELEIMALAE TAUSI, Speaker of the Parliament of Tuvalu, said genuine partnerships were needed in the transfer of information and communications technology, productive technologies and technical skills, as well as in the transition to renewable energy, whether through ODA, grants, soft loans, private investment or other sources. Least developed countries, on the other hand, must provide stability through good leadership, governance and accountability. "If we can provide stable and democratically elected administrations, strong institutions and legal underpinnings, these will only ensure that investments and socially inclusive infrastructure are provided efficiently," he said. They should encourage gender parity and empower all citizens to take part in nation-building. It was time for action, which should not be the monopoly of United Nations Headquarters. Rather, the five regional commissions must be empowered to promote implementation of internationally agreed development goals, he said, underscoring the importance of country-specific development priorities. The costs of damage caused by climate change were taxing to least developed countries, with shocks quickly eroding development gains. He advocated building on the momentum of the Paris Agreement.

SAMURA KAMARA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone, said recent agreements had put the planet on a course for a sustainable future, keeping in mind least developed countries required differential and preferential treatment by the international community. The Midterm Review conference should set the stage for the launch of concrete deliverables and initiatives to accelerate the Programme of Action's implementation. For Sierra Leone, poverty eradication remained the overarching goal of the post-2015 development agenda. Eradicating poverty and creating sustainable development required peace and effective national institutions, he said, emphasizing that no fragile State had managed to achieve a single Millennium Development Goal and that conflict remained the greatest barrier to progress. Strengthening institutions and addressing the diverse challenges facing least developed countries were essential to achieving such progress. Sierra Leone had adopted measures to address the root causes of conflict, had risen to the test of the recent Ebola virus outbreak and was building on progress made in facing development challenges.

ERNESTO MAX TONELA, Minister for Industry and Trade of Mozambique, said national priorities had been aimed at sectoral progress in agriculture and fisheries, job creation and creating an enabling environment for developing small to medium-sized businesses. Other gains included constructing productive infrastructure, expanding social services and advancing gender equity. Mozambique had also introduced reforms and engaged with the private sector to explore ways to improve the business environment and achieve high productivity. The Government had consolidated the rule of law and democratic institutions and processes; yet, accomplishing the Programme of Action's goals depended on national and regional efforts backed by effective development partners. The global commitments that had been approved in 2015 represented an opportunity to reach that target.

OMAR HAMIDOU TCHIANA, State Minister, Minister of Transportation of Niger, said "we must breathe new life into the Programme [of Action]" in order to ensure that half of the least developed countries graduated by 2020. Progress had been made in promoting economic diversification, transport, manufacturing infrastructure, closing the gaps in energy, harmonizing customs procedures and regionally integrating transport to facilitate trade. The impacts of climate change had shown just how fragile least developed countries were to external shocks. Niger had promoted education and worked to strengthen transport infrastructure and promote resilience. The worsening security climate in the Sahel following the Libya crisis and the presence of Boko Haram, along with new illicit trafficking networks, had forced Niger to increase spending on security rather than development. Its renaissance programme focused on food security and smart agriculture. He hoped the Review would lead to complementary results in implementing all mechanisms that could support least developed countries. He urged maximizing ODA and making the technology bank operational by 2017. There was a need to set up an agricultural bank and a mechanism to bolster resilience, which would allow for more public-private partnerships.

MOUNIA MESLEM AMER, Minister for National Solidarity, Family and Women's Affairs of Algeria, said the number of least developed countries was on the rise and implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action had not lived up to expectations. "We need more solidarity to end extreme poverty," she said. Least developed countries' progress had been undermined by the global economic crisis, climate change and commodity-price fluctuations, while extreme poverty and fiscal deficits had limited institutional and human capacity, as had external debt and communicable diseases. Collective efforts were needed and should be adapted to new challenges. Eight donor countries in the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had allocated 0.15 per cent of their GNI to ODA for least developed countries, the same as in 2011. The geographic distribution of assistance flows had shown that support to the African Group in 2013 had been reduced, as had bilateral assistance to sub-Saharan countries, by 4 per cent compared to 2012. She called on developed countries to honour their ODA commitments. Algeria would continue to provide assistance to poor countries, having relieved the debt of 16 countries totalling $1.4 billion.

LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister for External Relations of Cameroon, said least developed countries represented 12 per cent of the world's population, with most living in rural areas and dependent on agriculture, which employed 60 per cent of those who worked. Since 2008, structural vulnerabilities of least developed countries had increased and they had not achieved their pre-financial crisis growth rates. Since 2015, less favourable external conditions had been compounded by epidemics and disasters. Reaching the 48 objectives in the eight areas of the Programme of Action had been met with uncertainty. The Programme had not been integrated into national development strategies in least developed countries and there had been a shortfall in commitments from partners on large infrastructure projects. Noting that Cameroon was surrounded by least developed countries, he said more broadly that fiscal and customs reform in central Africa had allowed for easing tax burdens in the region, with a new tax on "turnover" and a value added tax. It had seen the creation of the Central African Banking Commission and efforts to set up a multilateral surveillance tool to coordinate budgetary and monetary policies to promote convergence. Neighbouring landlocked countries had discounts on all merchandise coming from Chad, Central African Republic and Congo. Refugees fleeing Boko Haram had also been a burden for Cameroon.

WAHI TAHA ABDULLAH AMAN, Minister for Public Works and Highways of Yemen, said partnerships with the least developed countries was in the interest of the entire international community, notably to prevent armed groups from exploiting young people's living conditions. Paragraph 8 of the Istanbul Programme of Action covered least developed countries affected by conflict, Yemen among them. Young people there had taken part in the Arab Spring to protest corrupt family rule that had endured for three decades. Young people had imposed their peaceful vision of change and accepted the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative calling for the peaceful turnover of authority, followed by a national dialogue that had represented the common aspirations of all Yemenis. However, that achievement had run counter to a small group of corrupt parties, who, with the support of certain regional powers, had taken over State institutions, forcing the Government to request support. Since 2014, industrial production had been halted, armed groups had taken over the capital, and the health, water and sanitation sectors had been paralysed. He called for greater financial and technical assistance, and capacity-building to help least developed countries face man-made and natural hazards.

KAMAL HASSAN ALI, Minister for International Cooperation of Sudan, said all opportunities must be enhanced to support developing and least developed countries in the pursuit of their goals. Daunting challenges persisted, with Sudan experiencing a lengthy conflict. In addition, Sudan had shouldered alone its commitments, being denied international funding, and had faced sanctions since the 1990s, which had hampered development. In that regard, he called on all States for assistance. For its part, the Government aimed at stimulating economic growth and elevating the living conditions of its citizens. A free political environment and tremendous natural resources were among Sudan's assets; yet, since 1994, Sudan had tried unsuccessfully to join WTO, he said, calling for Member States' support for its continued bid for membership.

MAME MBAYE NIANG, Minister for Youth of Senegal, provided an overview of national gains, including a bolstered economy, strengthened security, stability and governance and the protection of rights and freedoms. Recalling that Senegal had attained parity in school enrolment for boys and girls, he said a gender equality act had also been passed. Despite that, challenges remained, including developing policies to boost resilience to multiple shocks, such as climate change. The Government of Senegal, he said, had been engaged in an accelerated programme geared towards improving the business environment and modernizing the public administration sector. Commending the draft declaration, he shared areas of concern, including weak resource mobilization and fluctuating global market prices. To respond to those and other concerns, partnerships needed to be more proactive and measures should be adopted to encourage predictable financial assistance.

NARSON RAFIDIMANANA, Minister of State for Presidential Projects, Land Management and Equipment ofMadagascar, said many obstacles existed for least developed countries, particularly global economic shocks, but their presence at the Review conference demonstrated the interest in overcoming such challenges. For Madagascar, a national development plan prioritized efforts based on the Programme of Action, including good governance, infrastructure expansion, energy and the important role of women and youth. Developing agricultural production and policies for exports were also priorities. That could not be done with a "magic wand", he said. Stressing that partners were essential to provide needed assistance in the pursuit of enhancing those and other related goals, he expressed certainty that the Programme of Action provided guidance to do so.

YINAGER DESSIE BELAY, Minister for Planning of Ethiopia, said bold steps to mainstream the Programme of Action into the national development plan had already witnessed progress since 2011 in the areas of economic growth, social development and environmental management, which had built productive capacities and reduced poverty. Despite those achievements, challenges and constraints remained; among them inflation, drought and declining commodity prices. "It has become clear that without additional joint efforts, it will be impossible for least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, such as Ethiopia, to achieve the Programme of Action targets by 2020," he said. The Midterm Review provided an opportunity to undertake an all-inclusive evaluation of the Programme of Action's implementation and to share best practices. Structural transformation to tackle existing and emerging challenges was essential and concrete action was needed to build capacities for gains in economic growth and poverty eradication through, among other things, innovative technology, youth development and addressing climate change consequences.

MARIO GIRO, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, said current crises had, among other things, triggered mass movements of migrants. Italy was at the forefront of addressing that global challenge, rescuing at sea thousands of people who were escaping poverty and war. Efforts included a newly launched compact between Europe and Africa, and Italy's regional initiatives. More broadly, he reiterated his Government's commitment to least developed countries, which could be seen in its support of programmes targeting a range of challenges, including efforts to boost agricultural production and to mitigate the effects of El Nino and other climate-related challenges. Italy had also increased its ODA level, with plans to allocate 50 per cent of its bilateral aid to least developed countries. Looking ahead, Italy would focus on structural gaps that were hindering countries' efforts to graduate from the Group of Least Developed Countries.

KHAMLIEN PHOLSENA, Vice-Minister for Planning and Investment of Lao People's Democratic Republic, said progress needed to be accelerated. Given the special needs of least developed countries, double concerted efforts were needed by all stakeholders, development partners, the United Nations and other international organizations, civil society and the private sector. Political commitments must be turned into action. Lao People's Democratic Republic was committed to the Programme of Action, with progress seen over the past five years, including in socioeconomic development, increased employment, enhanced agricultural production, bolstered trade and higher public and private investments. Having joined WTO in 2013, Lao People's Democratic Republic had been integrated into regional and global economics, with a substantial increase in trade in goods and services. Challenges persisted, including economic vulnerabilities and the even distribution of the benefits of high economic growth. His Government's long-term objective was graduating from its current status and it was committed to tackling the remaining obstacles to do so alongside achieving unmet Millennium Development Goals. The international community needed to reaffirm the world's commitment to address the special needs of all least developed countries.

CHRISTIAAN REBERGEN, Vice-Minister for International Cooperation of the Netherlands, said that 60 per cent of his country's population lived below sea level, making it crucial to stand beside least developed country partners to ensure that the 2030 Agenda was achieved. Eleven of the Netherlands' fifteen partner countries were least developed States. It would soon phase out from its aid countries that were becoming independent, leaving room to phase in more least developed countries. Apart from ODA, additional financing sources must be mobilized. The Netherlands had launched a fund to finance Dutch businesses interested in investing in developing countries and to finance local businesses in such countries. For each euro invested, the programme catalysed another Euros 4.50 from other investors. Such funds had supported more than 2,000 businesses and created 35,000 jobs, half of them in least developed countries.

RITA SOLANGE AGNEKETOM BOGORE, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, said her country's implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action had been characterized by diverse global, subregional and national constraints. The economy had been held hostage by climate change, swings in the prices of cotton, gold and oil, and by the sovereign debt crisis in United States and Europe. The security crisis in the Sahel and the Ebola epidemic also had impeded economic development, while the people's insurrection in October 2014 had brought down the former Government, decreasing foreign investment. Challenges persisted in the areas of governance, energy, trade, rural development, transport and infrastructure. The Istanbul Programme of Action aimed to help least developed countries achieve 7 per cent growth rates and reduce their vulnerability to shocks. The response to the 900 million people living in those nations meant building socioeconomic infrastructure, making water widely available, modernizing industry and reforming education systems. Partnerships to help them required a new impetus.

DAVID JALAGANIA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said his country had over the last decade stimulated development through a range of institutional anti-corruption and tax reforms. Structural changes had been made to reduce bureaucracy, a new tax code had entered into force and a new customs code had simplified procedures. Local service offices nationwide provided up to 400 services in a single space, increasing budget revenues, allowing the Government to invest in other areas. Such measures created a more attractive climate for doing business. A special front office would be created to facilitate better coordination among ministries to carry out more timely decisions. Success could be achieved in a short time frame, given concerted Government action, and Georgia was ready to share its experience.

NACI KORU, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said the declaration to be adopted in Antalya would include a number of deliverables. Among those were a study by the General Assembly on crisis mitigation and resilience-building; consideration of investment promotion regimes; a commitment to increase "Aid for Trade"; a review of LDC criteria by the Committee on Development Policy; a commitment to operationalize a technology bank; a study on the consequences of non-application of the LDC category by some United Nations agencies; and a commitment to explore ways of improving the effectiveness of food reserve mechanisms. Turkey's development cooperation with least developed countries focused on the priorities of the Programme of Action. It had announced an economic and technical cooperation package in 2011 and had committed to providing $200 million annually to those countries by 2020. It had provided $3.9 billion in ODA in 2015. Excluding humanitarian aid, about 20 per cent of its ODA had been delivered to least developed countries. Furthermore, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency had opened 12 programme offices in those countries.

YERZHAN ASHIKBAYEV (Kazakhstan) said that, having moved from a regular aid recipient to a donor State, his country believed that the Midterm Review should assess progress in the context of the Programme of Action, which should be a key vehicle for advancing the least developed countries to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda and other recent agreements. It also provided those countries with the momentum to implement the three reviews on peacekeeping operations, peacebuilding and Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), all of which were essential for peace and stability. The Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda offered clear guidance on how least developed countries could address and overcome the difficulties hampering their progress. Kazakhstan had supported UNDP projects on capacity-building for African Union member States and was determined to contribute to mechanisms that bolstered partnerships and share solutions that had worked for its own progress. Committed to developing a green economy, Kazakhstan believed that transforming challenges into opportunities must come from collective action, he said, noting that the Government would be hosting EXPO 2017 under the theme of "Future Energy".

MARIA ANGELA BRAGANCA, Secretary of State, Ministry of External Relations of Angola, said commitments made in 2015 were relevant to the objectives of the Programme of Action. Despite gains, more needed to be done and the Midterm Review offered a chance for partners to renew and reinvigorate efforts, including providing an ambitious blueprint for the next five years. With appropriate external support, those ambitions were achievable. Angola aimed at graduating from the Group of Least of Developed Countries, she said, stressing that development partners must urgently fulfil their commitments. Being the major victims of climate change, least developed countries were frequently affected by health crises and external financial shocks. Partners should work on resilience-building mechanisms to address and overcome those crises. As Angola was poised to graduate from its current status, it was aware of the major challenges to overcome constraints. As such, the Government had crafted programmes aimed at, among other things, reducing oil dependence, improving quality of life, developing the private sector and joining the international arena in a competitive manner. The Midterm Review should act as an impetus, she said, asking the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure that no one would be left behind.

ANNEMIE NEYTS-UYTTEBROECK, Minister of State of Belgium, urged ensuring that ODA went to countries most in need, which in most cases were least developed States. That was why her country had pledged to devote at least half of that assistance to those countries. It was also important that such assistance fulfilled its potential and innovated, by blending and leveraging; sharing risks collectively in order to reduce them individually; and bringing new donors and the private sector into play through thematic approaches and mechanisms such as "humanitarian and development impact bonds". Good governance was also needed, as no sustainable development could take root in societies where women and girls were neglected. While the Brussels Programme of Action coincided with the Millennium Development Goals, the Istanbul Programme of Action connected those objectives to the Sustainable Development Goals. The best way to guarantee no least developed country was left behind was to meet the 2020 deadlines, especially for graduation.

FRED OMACH, Minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development of Uganda, said common work to set least developed countries on a sustainable course required strengthening the global partnership in all areas of the Istanbul Programme of Action. Least developed countries had a high potential for growth, however they had been hampered by structural challenges. Those obstacles were not the result of an absence in development strategies, but in their implementation. Uganda had seen an average 5.8 per cent growth rate each year, well above the sub-Saharan average of 4.5 per cent. Its goal was to become a lower middle-income country by 2020, with per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $1,000 and aims of achieving upper middle-income status, with $9,500 of per-capita GDP. Uganda's aspirations were linked to the Istanbul Programme of Action, which had enabled it to fast-track attainment of internationally agreed development goals. While per-capita GDP of $663 was below that needed for graduation, a number of interventions were being made, especially in infrastructure.

THANA DUANGRATANA, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that with 47 of the 48 least developed countries being members of the Group of 77, the Midterm Review was of utmost importance. Amid a range of agreements made in 2015, the common overarching directive was eradicating poverty. As many least developed countries were heavily dependent on ODA, he was encouraged by the recent rebound of assistance to those States and called on all development partners to provide 0.2 per cent of their GNI to least developed countries and on developed countries to allocate half of their ODA to those countries.

Turning to trade, he said the global share of least developed countries was declining and urgent action was required reverse that trend by fulfilling commitments of the WTO ministerial decisions for duty-free, quota-free market access. Calling for lifting and totally eliminating unilateral economic measures imposed on developing countries, he expressed concern at the minimal representation of least developed countries in the global economic and financial architecture. Without such representation, those countries would never overcome their marginal situation and merge in the global scenario in a substantive manner. For its part, the Group of 77 had supported least developed countries through efforts such as capacity-building, technical assistance and training.

The representative of the European Union said that the bloc was determined to help least developed countries in core policy areas aimed at safeguarding peace and security, addressing conflict prevention and resolution, promoting human rights and the rule of law and ensuring gender equality and women's empowerment, among other things. As the largest collective ODA donor, the Union was working to meet the target of 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNI to least developed countries in the short term, and the 0.20 per cent target within the 2030 Agenda time frame. It provided duty-free and quota-free access to the European market for all products originating in least developed countries, except arms and ammunition, and as the biggest Aid for Trade donor, it would continue to support trade facilitation. At least 20 per cent of its budget would be spent on climate action in the 2014-2020 period, meaning that at least Euros 14 billion - an average Euros 2 billion per year - of public grants would support such activities in developing countries.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said that, as a "graduate" in 2011, his Government had believed that the Midterm Review would be its last conference on least developed countries. But, clearly, that was not the case, as Maldives desired to share experiences and allow others to have a smoother time with graduation. For years, Maldives had sought to delay its graduation, as it believed it had not been ready to take on the challenges outside the "protective cover" of the least developed countries status, but graduation should be seen, instead, as a celebration. While the graduation criteria did not contain a component on the economic vulnerability of countries, meeting the threshold was never a "must". Outlining national progress towards graduation, he said the 2004 tsunami had devastated Maldives' economy and damages had taken a decade to recover from. Maldives was a classic example of the island paradox - despite growth it remained vulnerable to external shocks.

The existing graduation criteria were inadequate, he said, as they failed to focus on the inherent and extreme vulnerability of graduating countries due to geographical and structural limits. The economic vulnerability index currently being used was also flawed, as it ignored key considerations, such as environmental vulnerabilities, import dependency and geographic dispersion and isolation. The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals demanded that investments were made in building resilience to weather both economic and ecological shocks. That was ever more important in the case of least developed countries. Graduation was not an end, but a beginning and should be embraced, not feared, but continued international assistance was essential and the structural flaws of the graduation system must be addressed.

ARLETTE CONZEMIUS (Luxembourg) said efforts must be redoubled to address structural weaknesses and approaches needed to seek out synergies to ensure effective action in helping least developed countries overcome the varied challenges they faced. A more holistic, cross-cutting approach should be based on dialogue. For its part, Luxembourg had worked to support least developed countries, including by meeting and advocating for minimum levels of GNI for ODA assistance. To maximize efficiency and impact, recipient countries were given priority for contributions, including through funding for non-governmental organizations. Additional efforts, however, were needed to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda through permitting the leveraging of other resources. Such initiatives should address, among other things, improving fiscal administration in developing countries.

Source: United Nations

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