As well as global giants like Coca-Cola and Marriott, 550 firms from developing countries attend conference in Turkey designed to improve the fortunes of the world's 48 poorest countries
Businesses from rich and poor countries are thick on the ground at this ambitious UN conference designed to boost the fortunes of the world's 48 poorest countries. The heavy presence of the private sector is the novel factor in the fourth UN conference on the least developed countries.
More than 2,000 companies are represented at the week-long jamboree in Istanbul, and they do not all come from the industrialised world. Besides familiar names such as Coca-Cola and Marriott, at least 550 firms from the LDCs are here. They bear unfamiliar names (at least to the west), such as Volcanic Earth from Vanuatu, Came Rise import export from Cambodia and Badsha Textiles from Bangladesh.
A trade fair, hosted by Turkey's confederation of businessmen and industrialists, is going on all week and a business "matchmaking event" on Tuesday gave opportunity for LDC companies to meet with counterparts from the industrialised world.
The biggest business contingent comes from Turkey – the first developing country to host a UN LDC conference since LDCs officially became a category in 1971. This reflects, perhaps, Turkey's desire to find business opportunities in new markets, as well as a belief – from its own historical experience – of the importance of the private sector in economic development. For the Turkish president, Abdullah Gül, this is what makes this conference different from its predecessors.
"This is a conference not just of government officials," he told the Guardian at the Tarabya presidential residence, with a splendid view of the Bosphorus. "There is a business track with the business community from LDCs and we have arranged it so they can have their own meetings. To me it is one of the most important aspects of this conference. It is the first time that there is this kind of large business presence."
Gül, who was meeting the world's press before attending Turkey's cup final tonight, said he wanted the conference to act as a spur to joint ventures between businesses in the developing and developed world that would boost growth and create jobs.
"We see the private sector as a very important dimension, it's the right kind of model," he said.
Gül politely declined to be sidetracked on to other pressing regional matters, such as the unrest in Syria or the civil war in Libya. He did not want "such topical issues" to overshadow the "overarching" importance of development matters at hand.
The UN is fully behind the embrace of private business. "Despite recent progress in some countries, more than 660 million people continue to live in poverty, largely disconnected from global markets and economic opportunity," said Georg Kell, executive director for the UN Global Compact, the UN's voluntary corporate responsibility initiative. "By bringing the voice of business to this LDC conference we hope that governments will improve the environment for business to grow. And showcasing market-led solutions we hope to inspire more partnerships which have the power to improve the lives of people."
As for the broad aims of the conference – halving the number of LDCs to 24 in the next decade – Gül was confident that the final document, a plan of action, would ensure that the next 10 years would be very different from the previous decade. Only three countries have shed their LDC status since 1971.
Civil society groups, however, are not so upbeat. They say that much of what appears to have been agreed in the forthcoming programme of action, to be finalised and endorsed by governments on Friday, will not help as it is simply written in language that was agreed from other processes.
"To achieve a world without LDCs is not just a matter of upscaling resources, we need to be rethinking both the model and the practice of sustainable development," said Demba Moussa Dembele, president of LDC Watch, an NGO network formed after the 2001 UN LDC conference held in Brussels. "Civil society leaders stress that a world without LDCs needs more than a small increase in ODA, or settling for commitments which extend no further than the millennium development goals on reducing poverty."
For Stephen O'Brien, UK international development minister, who is in Istanbul, it was imperative that the conference stress the importance of a successful end to the Doha trade negotiations – the so-called development round. A Doha round that extended duty free access to goods from LDCs would lift 3 million people out of poverty and come at a very low cost to the G20 of economic rich and emerging countries, he told the conference.
"Ensuring that countries are fully integrated into the global economy is critical to drive growth and poverty reduction. Without a fair chance to export their products, countries cannot meet their potential to grow and reduce poverty. A successful conclusion of the Doha development round and a strong multilateral system remain the best way to ensure sustained and fair market access of developing countries to global markets."
Source: The Guardian