The General Assembly held a day-long debate today on investment and financing for the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighting economic diversification, investment in agriculture, and fair trade as the three planks needed to accelerate progress.
“A true partnership for development means a combination of investment, trade, aid, debt relief and global economic governance reforms,” Mr. Ban said, calling on States to “make the most of” the fourth UN Conference on LDCs in Istanbul in May to promote a 10-year programme for food security, decent work, disaster risk reduction, climate-resilience and clean energy growth in the 48 LDCs.
“We need a programme of action for the next decade that emphasizes sustained and inclusive economic growth, improved productive capacity and a structural transformation that will generate jobs, especially for the vast and growing population of young people.”
Stressing the need for diversification, he noted that many LDC economies are heavily based on subsistence agriculture and extractive mining, making them highly vulnerable to swings in commodity prices and other upheavals. Beyond official development assistance (ODA) from donors, domestic resource mobilization, South-South cooperation, and the private sector have an important role to play in this.
“Ultimately, enhanced productive capacity will only be achieved with a dynamic and thriving private sector,” he said.
On investments in agriculture, Mr. Ban noted that the cost of importing food in LDCs has tripled in the past decade. “Global food prices have just reached record levels, and LDCs face a real prospect of a new food crisis. Millions of people have been pushed into poverty by the latest food price rises,” he said.
“We need to invest more in sustainable agriculture, especially in smallholder farmers and the infrastructure they need. This is important, both for food security and competitiveness in international markets. It means transferring appropriate technologies. And it means investing in climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as in the ecosystem services that underpin agriculture.”
Turning to fair trade, Mr. Ban said the international community had failed to follow through on its various global commitments, and he called for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks, which have been stalled in the past over such issues as removing agricultural subsidies in developed countries and quota and tariff barriers that impede LDC efforts to market their produce.
World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Pascal Lamy has voiced concern that recent progress on substance in the Doha Round is not fast enough to meet late April targets to produce draft texts for agreement by June or July and to conclude talks by the end of the year.
“Aid for Trade is vital, but will do little good if global markets are blocked or intrinsically unfair,” Mr. Ban said.
General Assembly President Joseph Deiss underscored the need for framework conditions in the LDCs that are conducive to investment and job creation. “The quality of the institutions and policies put in place at the national level is of decisive importance,” he said. “Reforms to strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and democratic institutions must be intensified; measures to combat corruption must be stepped up.
“Guarantees of fundamental rights, in particular property rights, but also the establishment of sound market structures are the necessary conditions for stimulating investment, mobilizing domestic resources, boosting productive capacities and generating employment.”
He cited productive infrastructure, agriculture, industry and services such as tourism as areas that should be accorded particular attention, underlined the importance of technology transfer for economic diversification, and highlighted the need for agreement in Doha.
“In particular, the conclusion of the Doha round, the extension of preferences for unrestricted, quota-free access for all products from least developed countries and the adoption of investment agreements are essential,” he said.
“Reducing the poverty and vulnerability of the least developed countries is a duty we owe to their needy populations, but it is also an important contribution to a more prosperous, secure, dynamic, democratic and united world,” he concluded.