Addis Ababa, 5 May 2003
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me at the outset to welcome you all, in my capacity as the Secretary-General of the International Ministerial Conference, to the African Regional Meeting, which is being held as part of the preparatory process for the International Ministerial Conference in Kazakhstan this August. I bring with me warm greetings and best wishes of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, for this important event. I am very happy for the presence of Madam Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive-Secretary representing my eminent colleague ECA Executive-Secretary Mr. K. Y. Amoako. I commend the efforts made by the ECA secretariat to provide preparations for this meeting. I am also pleased with the presence of United Nations entities and other international organizations. In particular, the participation of the World Bank and UNCTAD is a strong evidence of their continued support to the preparations of the International Ministerial Conference.
I am particularly pleased to see the strong presence of African sub-regional organizations here, namely, ECOWAS, COMESA, IGAD, SADC, and UEMOA. Their substantive and technical expertise and the knowledge of the specific agenda of the sub-regions would be very helpful. Indeed, in May last year, during our meeting, Mr. Amoako emphasized the important role that should be played by the African sub-regional organizations for the regional preparatory process in Africa.
Today's meeting presents a unique opportunity for a serious dialogue between landlocked developing countries of Africa with their transit neighbours aimed at improving transit systems in the region. We attach particular importance to the African regional meeting as half of the landlocked and transit developing countries of the world are in Africa.
The basic developmental disadvantages of landlocked developing countries are linked to their geographical handicap. The lack of access to the sea, remoteness from major international markets, inadequate transport infrastructure and the cumbersome transit procedures imply that these countries have to bear additional costs for their external trade transactions. It is increasingly recognised that excessive transport costs create a major barrier to foreign markets. Trade success or failure of landlocked developing countries is largely determined by transport availability and cost. Africa has the highest freight-to-export ratio. Ten of fifteen landlocked developing countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda and Uganda) spent about 40 per cent of their export earnings for transportation and insurance services. Obviously, it is a very heavy burden on these countries.
High transport costs have enormous impact as well on the economic development of landlocked developing nations. High transport costs reduce exports profits. They also cause inflation of the price of imported inputs for manufacturing. Moreover, high transport costs also reduce the level of investment, both directly through increasing the costs of imported capital and indirectly through reducing the level of total savings that is available for investment. Both have a negative impact on growth in the long run. Countries with high trade transaction costs are also less likely to attract export-orientated private capital. Transport costs affect a country's selection of trading partners. If export markets largely consist of poor, slow growing markets and there are significant costs (including transportation) of switching to new, richer, and faster growing markets, countries may be constrained in their growth potential.
Because of these important factors, landlocked developing countries find themselves among the poorest of the developing countries, with the weakest growth rates. In particular, landlocked developing countries had the weakest GDP per capita growth rate in the 1990s in relation to other developing countries. Even, their growth rate is much slower than that of the least developed countries as a group. There is a real risk for landlocked developing countries of being further marginalized in the world economy. The gap between landlocked developing countries and other developing countries will further widen, unless this negative tendency is arrested.
The international community has increasingly realized this reality. The most remarkable demonstration of this was the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration in which the world leaders called for a global partnership to address the special needs of landlocked developing countries. Also, last year the General Assembly established the Office of the High Representative to give a higher profile and to bring a coordinated effectiveness in addressing the issues related to these countries along with the LDCs and SIDS.
Against this background, the General Assembly has adopted a landmark resolution on convening the International Ministerial Conference. The Conference is expected to adopt a global programme of action for the LLDCs, which would address all fundamental transit issues, and it will formulate appropriate policy measures and action-oriented programmes aimed at developing efficient transit transport systems.
At its 57th session, the General Assembly considered the progress made in the preparations for the International Ministerial Conference on the basis of the report of the Secretary-General submitted by my Office. The General Assembly demonstrated the strong interest of Member States for this Conference. It was a clear demonstration of the greater importance that the Member States accord to the specific needs of landlocked developing countries, in general, and international cooperation for establishing efficient transit systems, in particular.
The expectations of the landlocked developing countries from the Conference is high as it would be the first ever high-level UN global event to address their special needs in their efforts to effectively integrate into the world economy. The positive outcome of the Conference will definitely galvanize international recognition and support in favour of landlocked developing countries. Therefore, the landlocked developing countries would make concerted efforts to adopt an implementable programme of action that takes into account their needs. First of all, they should make efforts to agree on measures aimed at further improving the condition to fully enjoy their legitimate right to have unfettered access to the sea by all means of transport; to reduce costs and improve services so as to increase the competitiveness of their exports; to reduce delivered costs of their imports; to have routes free from delays and uncertainties; to reduce en route loss, damage, and deterioration; and to open the way for export expansion.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations is fully aware of the high expectation of these countries and entrusted me to mobilize all parts of the United Nations to assist landlocked and transit developing countries to arrive at a focused, measurable and action-oriented outcome at the Conference.
Let me now turn to the substantive preparatory process of the International Ministerial Conference.
The process has started with the broad-based consultations to prepare a conceptual framework of the International Ministerial Conference. The Inter-agency meeting that I convened in New York in June last year was important in charting out the conceptual framework and organizational approach of the Conference. This first Inter-agency meeting brought together about 50 senior officials from more than 20 UN agencies, including the World Bank, UNCTAD and the Regional Commissions. The Economic Commission for Africa was also present. We also invited representatives from both landlocked and transit developing countries to the Inter-agency meeting to reflect their views. The Inter-agency meeting constituted the launching of the preparatory process for the International Ministerial Conference.
The following elements served as the guiding principles for us to coordinate the system-wide preparations for the International Ministerial Conference:
- The Conference is unique with its focused and specific agenda. Such a focused agenda would lead to the action-oriented outcomes, implementation of which would be feasible, measurable and quantifiable.
- The Conference is a UN system-wide joint undertaking with a single objective of formulating a new agenda for establishing efficient transit systems around the world.
- We are working with the International Chamber of Commerce to mobilize participation of the private sector in the Conference.
- We also endorsed the bottom up approach from the sub-regional and regional levels to the global level preparations. The efficient transit systems will naturally be established at the sub-regional level in the regional perspective. Therefore, to be meaningful and effective, any global programme needs to be based on sub-regional level assessment of constraints and priorities for future action. Sub-regional and regional level preparations should therefore receive our special attention.
The regional preparatory process for the Ministerial Conference started with the regional meeting in Latin America. The Latin American Regional Meeting concluded on a high note adopting its regional Programme of Action. We made available the advance copy of the report of that Meeting in the folder circulated here.
The Asian Regional Meeting was initially scheduled to take place on 22 and 23 April 2003 in Bangkok at the Headquarters of ESCAP as the 2003 annual session of the Special Body of ESCAP for LDCs and LLDCs. This meeting was cancelled due to the SARS outbreak. ESCAP had already organized four sub-regional meetings in South-east Asia, Central Asia, North-east Asia and South Asia. Based on the outcome of these meetings, the draft plan of action of the Asian region was prepared. It was subsequently adopted by the ESCAP Commission at its special meeting on 25 April with the participation of Bangkok-based delegations. This special arrangement had to be made in view of the tight timeframe of our preparatory process. I had sent a message to the meeting urging focused outcome.
This Meeting in Africa is the last but most important one as most landlocked countries are in this continent. This Meeting should adopt an African platform in the form of a programme of action for the International Ministerial Conference containing specific action oriented measures to establish a viable transit transport system in this vast continent. This would be the most important precondition for real regional cooperation and intra-regional trade.
As you can see from the roadmap that I made available for your Meeting, the International Ministerial Conference shall be preceded by two sessions of the Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee. The First Session of the Preparatory Committee will commence negotiations on the draft final outcome of the Conference. The second session will finalise the text of the outcome for adoption by the Ministerial Conference.
The preparations for the First Session are well underway. Notification was sent out to member states as well as the relevant international organizations. A draft provisional agenda is also available. The draft outcome of the Conference will be prepared based on the substantive findings of the analytical papers prepared by the relevant international organizations, including the World Bank, UNCTAD and the Regional Commissions. The outcomes of the regional preparatory meetings will constitute the main building blocks for the draft. It will be prepared in close cooperation and coordination with all the stakeholders. During the first session we are planning to organize two round tables with the purpose of providing substantive support for the deliberations.
I have launched a campaign on behalf of the UN Secretary-General to mobilize voluntary contributions. The Governments of Japan, Greece, and Switzerland made or promised to make contributions to the Trust Fund by him for the International Ministerial Conference. The European Commission has also pledged to the Trust Fund. The Special Unit for TCDC of UNDP has made contributions. The Government of Italy is providing financial assistance to UNCTAD in preparing technical papers on transit transport systems in landlocked and transit developing countries for the regional meetings.
UNDP Resident Representatives are also being mobilized. In this context, I sent a letter to Resident Representatives signed jointly with Mr. Zephirin Diabré, Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of the UNDP with a request to fund at least two participants from landlocked and transit developing countries to the first session of the Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee in New York and the Conference itself.
The World Bank has been very actively involved in the substantive preparations and my Office has been in regular contact with the Transport Division of the World Bank. I made the keynote speech at the 2003 Annual Transport Forum of the World Bank on the International Ministerial Conference. Keeping in view the upcoming International Ministerial Conference, the World Bank devoted a chapter to transport services in its annual report entitled "World Economic Perspective". It is a major substantive contribution by the World Bank to the Conference. In addition, the World Bank is preparing a comprehensive paper on private investment in infrastructure development in landlocked and transit developing countries. UNCTAD will prepare a report on LLDCs from three main angles, namely transit facilitation, trade expansion and investment promotion. The UNCTAD secretariat will also prepare technical papers on transit transport systems of landlocked developing countries. My Office is preparing a comprehensive publication on an overall socio-economic development trend in landlocked developing countries and transit transport systems around the world. We will also prepare the report of the UN Secretary-General to the first session of the preparatory committee on the outcome of the regional level preparations.
Also, the Millennium Development Project headed by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, is preparing a comprehensive paper on development needs of landlocked developing countries which would be used as a background document for the Conference.
As the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to launch a public information campaign, I initiated a wide scale of activities to mobilize international attention and awareness to the International Ministerial Conference and to the special needs and problems of landlocked developing countries. In addition to the keynote speech at the 2003 Annual Transport Forum we convened a number of briefing sessions for the New York based delegates and representative of the UN entities and other international institutions.
The Department of Public Information of the United Nations has undertaken a public information campaign as decided by the General Assembly. In particular, the DPI issued a number of press releases and news alerts during the sub-regional and regional meetings. The DPI also designed a poster for the Conference and prepared a Conference brochure, English of which is available to you. The Conference brochure in other UN languages will be soon out. These steps have been effective in mobilizing international attention to the particular needs and problems of landlocked developing countries and to the International Ministerial Conference.
The Office of the High Representative has launched a website on the Ministerial Conference which contains useful information regarding preparatory meetings at the regional and international levels, background documents, host country information, work programme and provisional agenda of the Conference, hotel information, parallel events etc. You may visit our website for more detailed information at the address:http://www.un.org/ohrlls
As the Secretary-General of the Conference, I have been in regular contact and consultations with the Host Government. The United Nations planning mission was fielded from 7 to 9 April 2003 to review the physical facilities for the Conference and to consult with the National Preparatory Committee of Kazakhstan on all organizational and logistical aspects of the Conference.
The draft host country agreement between the Government of Kazakhstan and the United Nations is being finalized. City administration of Almaty will provide the necessary support and facilities, including security, transportation and medical services for the participants of the Conference. During the first session of the Preparatory Committee, the host government will organize a special briefing session for the participants.
Let me conclude reiterating the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as reflected in the Conference brochure, urging all of us to give our strong support to the Ministerial Conference that is the most determined effort to date by landlocked countries, transit nations and the international community to find solutions to the urgent issues of their concern.
Please rest assured, distinguished delegates that I will make every effort to put the concern of the African landlocked developing countries at the centre of the International Ministerial Conference and its outcome.
I now declare the African regional meeting of landlocked and transit developing countries open.
I wish you every success in your deliberations.
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