16th Plenary Meeting of Economic and Social Council

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05-Apr-2016 02:42:11
Istanbul programme of action for least developed countries and subsidiary body elections are the focus as Economic and Social Council opens its coordination session at 16th meeting of 2016 session.

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Launching a series of coordination and management meetings for its 2016 session, the Economic and Social Council today took stock of current strategies and identified new ways in which the United Nations and its partners could better coordinate efforts to support the world’s least developed countries and ensure no nation or person was left behind in global development.

The meeting aimed to substantially contribute to the upcoming high-level midterm review, to be held from 27 to 29 May in Antalya, Turkey, on progress in implementing the 2011-2020 Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries.

Opening the dialogue, Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Director of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, who served as the moderator, said the review was taking place at a critical time, following the adoption of several landmark agreements in 2015. She said the outcome report on the midterm review would be presented at the Council’s next coordination and management meetings in June.

Taffere Tesfachew, Director of the Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the review should focus on lessons that could be drawn from the recent trade performance of least developed countries and steps those nations should take to capitalize on duty-free and quota-free market access opportunities in order to double their share of global exports by 2020, as called for by the Istanbul Programme of Action and Sustainable Development Goal 17.

As the drop in commodity prices would slow the least developed countries’ steady export growth over the past decade, the issue of export diversification must return to the forefront of their development agenda, he said. Least developed countries needed more support to build production capacity and reduce the cost of trade. In addition, the assumption in the Istanbul Programme of Action that trade-driven growth would automatically generate concrete benefits in social development needed a rethink as data in the past 25 years showed poverty reduction was not as expected in least developed countries in Africa. The review should also call for urgent implementation of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ministerial decision on preferential rules of origin for those nations.

Robert Chase, Senior Adviser to the Director of Operations Risk, Operations Policy and Country Services at the World Bank, said the 48 least developed countries were the institution’s core clients. They accounted for 12 per cent of the world’s population but only 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP); all faced capacity and institutional constraints and grappled with global challenges such as climate change, alarming health pandemics, slowed growth and rising inequality. Development interventions in such countries were high risk but also high return.

The International Development Association, a World Bank lending arm offering credits and grants for programmes that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions, had provided $22 billion for fragile and conflict-affected countries since 2000, and dedicated 40 per cent of its overall resources to least developed countries from 2010 to 2013, he said. In 2015, the Bank pledged to provide direct support to help such nations improve tax systems and increase transparency as a way to eliminate safe havens for illicit financial flows, a move which could provide more resources than direct financial assistance. The Bank was working with the United Nations system to coordinate the Association’s infrastructure.

It was also working to strengthen public-private partnerships, he said, pointing to the Bank’s advisory services for construction of a 19-kilometre rapid transit system in Dakar aimed at accommodating rapid growth and urban planning challenges in the Senegalese capital. He also cited partnerships for a road expansion project in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and a $3.1 billion scheme to sustainably develop the Niger River basin of Nigeria. Despite such successes, much had to be done to support the least developed countries, he said, stressing that: “No one should live in conditions of abysmal and extreme poverty.”

Babatunde Omilola, Head of Development Planning and Inclusive Sustainable Growth Team of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said UNDP was helping to mainstream the Istanbul Programme of Action into national development strategies and the work of United Nations funds, programmes and agencies. From 2008 to 2012, half of UNDP’s resources went to help least developed countries in areas such as democratic governance, the environment and graduation from least developed country status. The Programme provided analytic studies, policy direction and advice on how to better coordinate and engage development partners and carry out impact assessments.

Since 2012, UNDP country offices had supported Bhutan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh upon their graduation from least developed country status, advising them on ways to create medium-term development plans, build capacity and facilitate South-South exchanges, he said, noting that sustainable development focused on trade and productive capacities, and that green growth was vital. UNDP had placed a strong emphasis on inclusive growth, he said, citing examples in Africa, where the Programme had provided $100 million annually through the United Nations Capital Development Fund to enhance the private sector’s contribution to trade, growth and poverty reduction. In Uganda, more than $2.6 million had been provided for an agricultural development strategy to connect producers to markets. Since 2012, UNDP had supported 12 least developed countries in the extractive industries.

Aynul Hasan, Director of Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), speaking via video link, said the number of least developed countries in the region had decreased from 14 in the 1990s to 12, seven of which were close to graduation. Their economic growth rate had dropped; nevertheless, the countries were performing reasonably well. In early 2000, ESCAP helped the Maldives to develop a six-year plan that enabled the island nation to graduate from least developed country status. Last year, UNDP and ESCAP extended a partnership launched in 2001 to help Maldives achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

She said that the ESCAP report on the least developed countries, to be released in May, would focus on their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, using network analysis to help them towards that end. China, India and other developed States had advised the least developed countries on how to integrate the post-2015 development agenda into their planning processes. ESCAP was partnering with regional development banks to help those nations with tax cooperation, infrastructure financing, inclusive financing and capital market matters.

Taufiqur Rahman, Head of the Least Developed Countries Unit, WTO, also speaking via video link, said WTO supported least developed States through negotiations, technical support and capacity-building, earmarking more than 40 per cent of its technical aid to those nations. A programme kept the Istanbul Programme of Action under review and allowed WTO members to offer preferences to services and suppliers from least developed countries. In 2012, the guidelines for those States to accede to the WTO were streamlined; since then four such countries — Vanuatu, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Yemen and Samoa had graduated from least developed status and had joined the global trade body. Meanwhile, Afghanistan and Liberia had completed the accession process, bringing to 36 the number of least developed States with WTO membership.

In 2013, during the Bali Ministerial Conference, the first-ever multilateral guidelines on rules of origin were issued, making it easier for least developed countries to qualify for preferential market access, he said. The Bali Package also granted duty-free and quota-free market access to some services. Least developed countries had been granted a 17-year transition period, until 2033, to comply with Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which was particularly important with regard to pharmaceutical provisions.

In the last few years, WTO had delivered important outcomes, eliminating agricultural export subsidies, a long-standing demand for least developed countries which enabled them to better compete on world agricultural markets, he said. Yet, challenges remained to further integrate those nations into world trade, he stressed, echoing the concerns of Mr. Tesfachew that the steep decline in commodity prices in the last few years had hindered the least developed countries’ share in world commodity and commercial exports.

When the floor was opened to delegations, the representative of Bangladesh said the least developed countries must be granted the preferential trade treatment they deserved, regretting that the long-promised duty-free and quota-free market access had yet to materialize. Meaningful market access was of key importance. At 2 or 3 per cent, the least developed countries had poor representation in decision-making in the World Bank Group, and that must change, as must tax collection policies. He asked the WTO for more tangible support for accession to the global body.

Turkey’s representative stressed the importance of timely implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action, particularly following adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. He strongly encouraged participation in next month’s midterm review in Antalya.

The representative of the United States asked how United Nations partners could keep the development agenda focused on least developed countries and integrate support for them related to trade and capacity-building at the national level, while China’s representative called for stronger coordination among them.

In response, Mr. Rahman said WTO’s focus was on least developed countries and would remain so in the foreseeable future. WTO members had given them special attention, including through his Unit. Mr. Hassan added that ESCAP had a dedicated unit for States with special needs, including the least developed countries, and it had an intergovernmental body platform. The next ESCAP report would focus on how to adapt the Sustainable Development Goals in the national plans of least developed countries.

Mr. Omilola said that from 2006 to 2012 half the global resources of UNDP were dedicated to least developed countries and the Programme aimed to increase that figure to 75 per cent. UNDP was working with myriad United Nations agencies to harmonize their agendas and integrate poverty eradication and environmental conservation. He noted coordination among them in capacity-building, South-South exchanges and in helping graduation from least developed country status.

Mr. Chase said the World Bank conducted a systematic diagnostic for each individual country to devise a suitable framework for a partnership with the country. It was essential to have country-driven approaches and problem-solving solutions around which United Nations agencies could organize. The financial institution was in the process of replenishing its funding for its International Development Association, which would enable it to remain focused on least developed countries. Regarding the role of least developed countries in decision-making, he said the Bank was undergoing reform of a dynamic formula to address items such as systematic resilience and climate change.

Mr. Tesfachew said that Lao People’s Democratic Republic was the only least developed country that had achieved all eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and that, with that in mind, UNCTAD was focusing on those countries to ensure they fared better with the Sustainable Development Goals. The agency reported annually to the Secretariat on its support for the least developed countries. Yet, coordination with other agencies was not easy as they could have conflicting points of view and advice for least developed countries. When processes were country-driven and resources were given with conditions, coordination tended to occur.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council adopted without a vote four draft decisions contained in the report of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (document E/2016/32 (Part I)) on its 2016 regular session, held from 25 January-3 February and 16 February. The drafts called for Council action.

By the terms of draft decision I, the Council, among other things, granted consultative status to 206 non-governmental organizations, closed without prejudice consideration of the request for consultative status by 23 such organizations after they had failed to respond to queries over the course of two consecutive Committee sessions, and decided to close the application for such status submitted by Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation.

By the other three drafts, the Council took note of the withdrawal of the consultative status requested by one non-governmental organization, decided to reinstate the status of one such organization that had submitted its outstanding quadrennial report, and it took note of the Committee’s report.

After that action, the United States representative took the floor, expressing alarm at the increasing trend of limiting civil society’s participation in the United Nations system, including by blocking the applications of non-governmental organizations and silencing them. In the past three years, more than 50 countries had enacted measures to restrict civil society and in 2016, for the first time, the Committee denied a non-governmental organization the ability to speak before its application was considered. Governments could only achieve the best outcomes with the help and engagement of civil society partners, who were part of the daily fibre in her country. All civil society representatives should be allowed to express their views and the United Nations should strive to accredit as many non-governmental organizations as possible.

The Council also decided to postpone its special meeting on international cooperation in tax matters to a later date.
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