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Vanuatu asks UN to review criteria for least developed country status

Vanuatu asks UN to review criteria for least developed country status

President Kalkot Mataskelekele of Vanuatu
Vanuatu today called on the United Nations to urgently review the criteria for classifying some nations as least developed countries (LDCs), a status that brings increased international aid and trade assistance, saying that the interpretation of the rules could lead to some struggling States missing out on vital funding.

President Kalkot Mataskelekele told the General Assembly’s high-level debate that poor countries could find themselves having “graduated” out of LDC status, even though they remain highly vulnerable to external economic shocks.

“The decision of graduating a country from LDC status, in our view, must imply the recognition of undisputed sustainable socio-economic progress in the country,” Mr. Mataskelekele said.

There are currently 49 LDCs, classified in that group by the UN because they have the lowest socio-economic indicators in the world.

To graduate out of that status, as Cape Verde did last year, the countries must meet two out of three criteria: a boost in per capita incomes, significant progress in human capital or assets (such as in nutrition, health and literacy), and a resilience to economic shocks.

But Vanuatu’s President said the vulnerability criterion should be treated as paramount. “It is indeed the only criterion that ultimately matters to small and vulnerable States such as ours.”

He added that many small island developing States were especially vulnerable, as they faced not only major economic challenges but also the potentially catastrophic effects o rising sea levels because of climate change.

“The reform we are calling for is a mild and reasonable one, one that could easily be adopted by ECOSOC [the Economic and Social Council] and the General Assembly without altering the main components of the established methodology.

“We believe the time has come for the UN to come full circle by making the same criterion a superior one, so that no highly vulnerable country be forcibly reclassified and bound to lose the level of concessionary support it remains in need of. Such a reform would do justice to countries that have not achieved the implied structural progress.”

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia echoed Mr. Mataskelekele in his address to the Assembly, stressing that small island developing States remain highly vulnerable to economic and environmental turmoil.

"The enormous threat of more severe weather events and sea level rise hangs over us like a large storm cloud," Mr. Ielemia said. "This threat hinders investment in our country and potentially puts into question our very survival."