GENEVA — In December, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released The Least Developed Countries Report 2016: The Path to Graduation and Beyond – Making the Most of the Process. The annual report provides comprehensive data and analysis on the world’s most disadvantaged countries.
The least developed countries (LDCs) are the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries. They are classified as such by the U.N. based on gross national income (GNI), human assets and degree of economic vulnerability. The U.N. General Assembly created the list in 1971 to bring attention and support to its most disadvantaged members. According to the U.N., there are currently 48 LDCs, including 34 in Africa, 13 in Asia and the Pacific and one in Latin America.
Once a country overcomes LDC status, it goes through a graduation process. The 2016 report estimates that only 16 of the current LDCs are likely to fulfill the graduation criteria by 2021. This is well below the target specified by the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA), which charts the international community’s vision and strategy for the sustainable development of LDCs. The IPoA target is to have at least half of the LDCs satisfy the criteria for graduation from LDCs status by 2020.
According to the report, there are three vicious circles that affect LDCs. First, many LDCs get caught in a “poverty trap” of low income and limited economic growth. Second, many LDCs struggle with a “commodity trap,” a dependence on trade that increases vulnerabilities from external forces like weather and global markets. The third cycle starts because many LDCs have weak productive foundations and limited export variation. This creates a high reliance on imports, which can lead to lingering current account deficits, when the value of imports is greater than the value of exports, resulting in aid dependence and an accumulation of foreign debt.
The fact that achievement of the IPoA target seems unlikely indicates that international support is lacking. The UNCTAD warns that without stronger global support, the least developed countries of the world “will lose ground in economic development and face increasing levels of poverty.” The report specified the following supports as among those needed from the global community in order to meet both the IPoA target and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
- Fulfillment of donor countries’ commitment to providing official development assistance to LDCs equaling 0.15-0.20 percent of the donor GNI.
- Achieving 100 percent duty-free quota-free treatment of all exports from all LDCs.
- More technology-related international support measures (ISMs).
Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, said the frontier of least developed countries was “where the global battle for poverty eradication will be won or lost,” and he reminded the global community of the pledge to “leave no one behind.”
– Kristin Westad