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Independent Partnership for the Monitoring of the Outcome of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries

During the forty years since the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category was created in 1971, international efforts to eliminate the conditions that make these countries “least developed” have shown only meagre results. The programmes in favour of the LDCs have been ineffective, with only three countries graduating from the LDC status in four decades (Botswana 1994, Cape Verde 2007, Maldives 2011 and Samoa 2014). Business as usual is no longer a solution.

LDC IV Monitor is an independent partnership established in September 2011 by eight think tanks and academic institutions from LDC and partner countries. Through monitoring and assessing the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (IPoA) adopted by the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV), it aims to contribute to an improved delivery of commitments made to the LDCs. Drawing its strength from the expertise and capacity of its members, the consortium undertakes policy research, organises dialogues and carries out outreach activities covering the key issues laid out in the IPoA.

The initiative is currently being hosted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh. The ICTSD in Geneva functioned as the former Secretariat of the LDC IV Monitor.

 

WHY INDEPENDENT MONITORING?CONTEXTOUR OBJECTIVES

The Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV) concluded on 13 May 2011 after a five-day summit in Istanbul, Turkey. The Conference adopted the Istanbul Plan of Action (IPoA) which set out a strategy in favour of the LDCs for the decade 2011-2020. The IPoA identified eight (8) priority areas for action under which a number of goals and targets have been mentioned. Threecategories of actions were referred to in the IPoA. These were joint actions (by LDCs and developed countries), actions by the LDCs, and actions by development partners. The broad priority areas of the IPoA included (i)productive capacity, (ii) agriculture, food security and rural development,(iii) trade, (iv) commodities,(v) human and social development, (vi) multiple crises and other emerging challenges, (vii) mobilising financial resources for development and capacity‐building and (viii) good governance at all levels.

Ambitious in nature, the IPoAde facto set out a strategy in favour of LDCs for the coming decade. But in order to ensure its meaningful realisation, the IPoA now needs to be implemented. This requires the identification of delivery tools for specific targets, the provision of necessary financial and non-financial resources, and a strengthened monitoring mechanism. Unfortunately, the implementation and monitoring of the Brussels Programme of Action for 2001-2010 (BPoA) were not carried out properly. Though a wealth of information was generated across the wide realm of the BPoA, mostly by the UN agencies, the achievement of the BPoA objectives was less than satisfactory. One of the reasons is that monitoring remainedat an official and administrative level only. The new programme of action needs analytical, independent and policy-oriented monitoring by independent bodies and stakeholders, and LDC IV Monitor intends to fulfill this role.

LDC category, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1971, comprised 25 low-income countries facing severe structural impediments to growth. These countries were “at a very early stage of economic and social development”. Over the last four decades, the number of LDCs has grown to 48. Those 48 LDCs, populated by 900 million people, are characterised by low per capita income, low level of human capital development, and economic and structural vulnerability. The LDCs account for less than 2 per cent of the world’s GDP, and around 1 per cent and 0.5 per cent of world trade in goods and services respectively. While there is large heterogeneity across LDCs, three quarters of LDC population are grounded in poverty. LDC economies find it difficult to structurally transform so as to accelerate inclusive and sustainable growth. The LDCs are important in the context of a number of global initiatives, and LDC IV Monitor’s aim is to serve as a platform around which LDC-specific research and debate can be conducted.

United Nations Conference on the LDCs (UN-LDC)
The Istanbul conference was the fourth in the sequence of UN conferences to propose a programme of action for LDC development. Unlike earlier initiatives, the IPoA called upon the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) to “continue awareness raising and advocacy works in favour of LDCs in partnership with the UN, parliaments, civil society organisations (CSOs), media, and academia”.  LDC IV Monitor, an independent partnership of think tanks, was created to add substance to the operationalisation of this very mandate.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in the LDCs is particularly challenging. Extreme poverty, low human development – including in education, gender equality and health – as well as environmental peril are key characteristics of the LDCs. The Eminent Persons Group’s report prepared for the Istanbul conference rightly called for “No MDGs without LDCs”, as the development gap between the LDCs and the rest of the world continues to widen. The proportion of people in the LDCs living on less than $2 a day has not significantly decreased since 1990s and remains above 75%. Productivity in agriculture remains low, leaving the LDCs struggling to feed themselves. Beyond primary education, school enrolment rates are low. Child mortality has been falling less confidently than in other low- and middle-income countries. The livelihood of small island states is increasingly endangered in light of climate change. These are just a few reasons why the LDCs should not only be kept on the radar screen of the MDG progress reports, but must be allocated additional international support to the achievement of the MDG targets.  Indeed a large proportion of the targets and goals of the IPoA are directly linked to the implementation of MDGs. Moreover, LDC IV Monitor may emerge as a useful platform for the post-2015 MDG discussion.

High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-AE)
The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness concluded in Busan on 1 December 2011, repeating the commitments of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and those of the Accra Agenda for Action. Yet the Busan outcome document makes no mention of the LDCs, although the LDCs are the only specific category of countries within the group of developing countries that is officially recognised by the United Nations. These countries – precisely because of their characteristics (low income, low human capital, high structural vulnerability) – are most in need of aid, and are most dependent on it. In fact, an improvement in aid quality would be of greatest importance. Conversely, the document considers the case of fragile states and “promoting sustainable development in situations of conflict and fragility”. Most fragile states, however, are LDCs and the LDCs, which are not currently considered as being fragile, are at risk of becoming fragile in the future, because of their structural characteristics. Considering only the notion of fragile states entails the risk of having a curative, not preventive, attitude to fragility. LDC IV Monitor may create a substantive opportunity for rethinking aid relationship in the emerging context.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The LDCs are the group of countries which are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the resulting disasters which range from food shortages to disappearing altogether due to the rising sea levels. The LDCs are predominantly agrarian economies yet their agricultural development has been suffering from a plethora of climate-related problems such as deforestation and desertification, land and soil degradation, dust, floods, cyclones, tsunami, earthquake, drought, unpredictable weather patterns, loss of biodiversity, declining water availability and degrading water quality. Being disproportionally impacted by climate change, the LDCs need assistance in preparing for, and adapting to, these adverse effects. Hence any progress in global agreements on climate is of outmost importance from the viewpoint of the LDCs. The “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” has recently provided some hope in this respect. Although the US, Canada, Japan and Russia are not parties to the second Kyoto commitment, the negotiated deal provides a plan to advance financing, technology and response measures for climate purposes. Now the Global Climate Fund should give priority to the LDCs, and pledges for Fast Track Financing for vulnerable countries, including the LDCs, should be kept.

Doha Trade Round
The objective of the Doha Development Agenda since 2001 has been to integrate poor countries into the global trading system in an accelerated and balanced manner. Yet the frustrating outcome of the Eight Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation to make headway towards the conclusion of the Doha Round indicated that the LDCs might still have a while to wait for an effective and operational initiative. The Doha Round has been stalled for years as a result of market access deadlock between the US and large emerging economies and, consequently, the adoption of an LDC-related package has been delayed. Attempts to agree on an early harvest LDC package have been unsuccessful, mostly due to the opposition of the US to discuss the Duty Free and Quota Free market access for LDC products outside the comprehensive Doha deal. A couple of elements in the Doha negotiations remain key to the economic wellbeing of the LDCs. They are, among others, the above-mentioned Duty Free and Quota Free market access for LDC products to the developed and emerging countries’ markets, LDC waiver for preferential treatment of LDC-supplied services, deadline on compliance with the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual property Rights (TRIPS), and the phasing out of trade-distorting subsidies to cotton and agriculture in the developed countries.

G20
Led by South Africa and South Korea, the G20 has put forth the Development Action Plan in which the LICs and the LDCs are mentioned on numerous occasions, offering hopefully a political momentum in progressing the LDC agenda. The full delivery of earlier programmes of action for the LDCs faltered precisely because of the absence of the necessary political will on the part of development partners. The LDC governments also often demonstrated institutional and political weaknesses in addressing the commitments. Thus, there must be a conscious attempt to ensure that the concerns and interests of the LDCs receive sustained political attention. To this end, the LDC agenda needs to be included in high-level discussions of major country groups, particularly in the G-20. In this respect, the G-20 could significantly contribute by inviting an LDC representative to its regular meetings (even as an observer) and reflecting the LDC-specific concerns in the programme of its Development Working Group.

In line with the IPoA’s mandate, LDC IV Monitor aims to add value to the official monitoring and review mechanism of the IPoA. Working outside the official intergovernmental process, LDC IV Monitor provides credible, evidence-based and policy-oriented assessment of the state of delivery of the promises contained in the IPoA. It strives to enhance the transparency of the IPoA’s implementation, promote accountability by the LDCs, development partners, international agencies and stakeholders, and foster efficiency in the implementation of the IPoA leading towards the graduation of the LDCs. Hence with the primary goal of contributing to the implementation and effectiveness of the IPoA, LDC IV Monitor has the following specific objectives:

  • To assess the extent, impact and effectiveness of implementation of the IPoA
  • To help maintain and reinforce the interest of policy makers, practitioners and the public in the implementation of the Istanbul outcome
  • To produce practical proposals towards the implementation of the IPoA for consideration by national governments, international agencies and development community, as well as the academia, private sector, civil society and parliamentarians
  • To provide useful inputs to the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) as it continues “to fulfil its function to assist the UN Secretary General”
  • To act as a facilitator and platform around which the LDC-specific policy-oriented research activities can be initiated.