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Statement by Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury
United Nations Under-Secetary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries,
Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
----
at the
Fifth Annual Ministerial Meeting of the
Landlocked Developing Countries
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New York
27 September 2004

Mr. Chairman,

Honorable Ministers,

Distinguished Chairmen of NAM & G77

Distinguished delegates,

Allow me at the outset to convey to you the warm greetings of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his best wishes for the success of this meeting. I have the pleasure to add my own greetings to all of you. I am confident that under your wise and experienced chairmanship, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, the meeting will be an important step forward for concerted action for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) during the 59th session of the UN General Assembly and beyond. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to your great country, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and its Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Alounkeo Kittikhoun for continuing to provide effective and committed leadership to the LLDCs

A year has now passed since the landmark International Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Almaty was a key event in the effort towards the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals as articulated clearly in Goal 8. It sought to tackle the marginalization of landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) from the international trading system due to high trade transaction costs caused by landlockedness and remoteness from major world markets. In discussing trade barriers affecting over 30 countries worldwide, Almaty reflected the increased importance the international community now attaches to LLDCs.

The Almaty Programme of Action laid out a framework for specific action in five priority areas: fundamental transit policy issues, infrastructure development and maintenance, international trade and trade facilitation, international support measures, and implementation and review. It is widely recognized that the Almaty Programme is well-focused and balanced. Its implementation is considered feasible and measurable. International determination to deal with the special needs of LLDCs was further enhanced during the 58th Session of the General Assembly.

Mr. Chairman,

At the Almaty Conference, the international community entrusted the United Nations Office of the High Representative with an important mandate to ensure the effective implementation of the Almaty Programme. It is a major addition to the mandate and functions of the Office because when the Office was established by the UN General Assembly, LLDCs - unlike LDCs and SIDS - did not have a UN mandated programme of action. Now, thanks to the Almaty Programme of Action, LLDCs not only enjoy a special agenda at the United Nations, my Office has been mandated also to coordinate actions for the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action. It is through such contributions that the spirit of international co-operation in the effort to assist LLDCs - clearly manifested at Almaty - thrives.

This year we set in motion the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action. Attention was given to mobilizing awareness and operationalizing coordination and monitoring mechanism for the effective implementation of the Programme. One of the main achievements in this regard has been the adoption of the road map towards the implementation of the Almaty Progarmme of Action with a view to providing guidance to the United Nations agencies and other international, regional and sub-regional stakeholders in assisting landlocked developing countries. In February I invited the relevant regional, sub-regional and international organizations to an inter-agency meeting to consider the road map. At the meeting it was agreed that the kind of broad-based participatory approach, so successful in leading to Almaty, would be adopted for the follow-up process. Private sector and professional organizations are essential partners in this process. The inter-agency meeting endorsed the road map. The road map identified areas that would require immediate action. These included the identification of major "missing links'' in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the creation of subregional priority projects to develop infrastructure and facilitate trade. LLDCs were encouraged to establish national trade facilitation boards with a view towards garnering international support for trade facilitation. And, promoting the accession to international conventions on transit and transport trade was initiated.

Mr. Chairman,

In addition to what my Office is doing, the Almaty Programme of Action is being implemented through a number of important initiatives worldwide. Let me briefly list some of them here. One of the concrete achievements to follow up Almaty was the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network signed in Shanghai, China last April. The agreement is the first of its kind to have been developed under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP). It will establish the alignment, standards and signage for the Asian Highway Network to enhance transport links for LLDCs in the region. This covers 140,000 kilometres of highways extending to the 32 countries, including 12 LLDCs, in the Asian Highway Network.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA) has been making a valuable contribution towards the implementation of the Almaty Programme through the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme. Working within a long-term framework, the Transport Policy Programme has adopted an action plan for transit transport facilitation. The action plan allows for the observation of abnormal practices along transit corridors; port security audits; port facilitation; road safety; harmonization of transit transport documents; and capacity-building for transport planning specialists. The Economic Commission for Africa also organised a meeting on multimodal transport development in Africa, in which the Almaty Programme of Action was discussed further.

The World Bank is working towards supporting the Almaty Programme of Action by collaborating with the World Customs Organization to streamline customs procedures. It is also running a number of projects aimed towards improving infrastructure and streamlining transit arrangements. The Northern Corridor Transport Improvement Project seeks to give Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo access to the Kenyan section of the corridor. In West Africa, the World Bank, the Economic Community of West African States and the West African Economic and Monetary Union are preparing a transport project to improve road conditions, facilitate border-crossing operations, and implement inter-regional transit agreements.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been active in assisting LLDCs through its analytical work and technical cooperation arms. UNCTAD is working on three pilot projects to design and implement regional solutions in selected transport corridors in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These are a few examples. I would not want to dwell further on these activities since they have been addressed in the report of the Secretary-General to the current UNGA session, a copy of which is included in the information kit distributed here.

Mr. Chairman,

Two recent major developments pertaining to the international development agenda are of significance to the needs of the LLDCs. At UNCTAD XI in Sao Paulo, member States recognized the need to address the drawbacks of globalization as well as to embrace its advantages. In this regard, the Sao Paulo consensus called for special consideration to be given to the small, vulnerable developing economies, including landlocked developing countries.

In Geneva last month the World Trade Organization (WTO) reached a breakthrough on agricultural subsidies and so-called Singapore issues that were hindering progress in launching the new round of trade negotiations. As it was called for in the Almaty Programme of Action, the current negotiations on market access for agricultural and non-agricultural goods should give particular attention to products of special interest to LLDCs. I am pleased to report to you that in my recent discussions with senior trade officials from developed countries, including the European Union, the need for such consideration found growing understanding and support. This is a major advance in the international perception of landlocked developing countries. Landlocked developing countries need to formulate an effective common strategy to press their case for preferential access to markets. In this regard, I strongly support the initiative taken by your Group in Sao Paulo to convene a meeting of LLDC Ministers with a view to elaborating on your common position on this matter. We are pleased that the Chair of that ministerial meeting Foreign Minister of Paraguay Madame Leila Rachid de Cowles is amongst us today.

It is also an encouraging development that trade facilitation will be included in the next round of trade talks. The importance of trade facilitation must be stressed because it is the key to the solution of the problems facing LLDCs. Under-developed infrastructure, time-consuming customs procedures, logistical problems generated by transport regulations and additional border crossings -- all these increase transaction costs for both importers and exporters, although LLDCs tend to be commodity exporters. Such trade barriers are detrimental to the domestic economy, inflating the price of imported goods and diminishing the competitiveness of exporters in the global economy. LLDCs cannot remedy these problems on their own because they rely on other countries for trade facilitation. LLDCs have to actively participate in negotiations on trade facilitation. They are in great need of technical assistance in this area.

Mr. Chairman,

The 59th Session of the General Assembly has so far seen the 2004 Treaty Event on International Conventions Applicable to Transit Transport Co-operation, which sought to streamline, simplify and standardize trade rules and procedures in an effort to reduce transit costs. However, it is my understanding that so far LLDCs have not participated as actively as was hoped. We will continue this effort in future and all LLDCs are encouraged to sign the treaties. Looking beyond the 59th Session, the Office of the High Representative is planning a meeting on the "Role of regional and sub-regional organizations for the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action" to agree on specific projects and deliverables as well as on main indicators for measuring the progress.

But for now it must be emphasized that the present session of the General Assembly is of crucial importance to LLDCs because it marks the General Assembly's first consideration of the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action. The General Assembly deliberations should result in a substantive resolution towards enhancing the implementation of Almaty in order to overcome the difficulties confronting LLDCs. I am aware that the LLDCs will work very hard and in a concerted manner to provide direction for further action.

Let us hope that the spirit of co-operation that flowered at Almaty last year is further carried forward during the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly for the benefit of all LLDCs.

I thank you very much for your attention and I wish you every success in your deliberations.

 


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