LDC-5 Conference And Bangladesh Case – OpEd
In the late 1960s, the United Nations began to pay special attention to the least developed countries, recognizing those countries as the most vulnerable among the international community.
In order to generate international attention and action to reverse the continuing deterioration of the socio-economic condition of these most vulnerable countries, continue focus on the need for special measures for these countries, the 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) is being held in Doha in March in 2023 (March 6-9) to help build an ambitious new programme for action for LDCs.
The Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to accelerate sustainable development in the places where international assistance is needed the most – and to tap the full potential of the Least Developed Countries helping them make progress on the road to prosperity.
What are the challenges facing the least developed countries?
Today, the 46 LDCs are home to some 1.1 billion people, that’s 14 per cent of the world’s population, and more than 75 per cent of those people still live in poverty.
More than other countries, LDCs are at risk of deepening poverty and remaining in a situation of underdevelopment. They are also vulnerable to external economic shocks, natural and man-made disasters, communicable diseases and crucially climate change, international debt, Russia-Ukraine war. As such, LDCs require the highest level of attention from the international community.
The Doha Programme of Action for the LDCs was adopted in March 2022. It identifies six core areas of intervention that LDCs need to make to move out of the group. All of these areas are very much relevant to Bangladesh.
First, the programme suggests investments in people so that no one is left behind. The second area is the need to leverage science, technology and innovation to expedite the socioeconomic progress of the LDCs.
The third agenda concerns the structural transformation of the economy through productive capacity development.
The challenges of expanding international trade and deepening regional integration have been singled out as the fourth agenda. In the post-graduation period, international trade in goods and services has to be sustained through the introduction of new export products and by exploiting new markets. Bangladesh’s exporters shouldn’t be deprived of duty and quota-free market access.
In the case of regional integration, the institutional framework of South Asian regional integration currently remains in a state of limbo.
In this context, Bangladesh will have to pursue bilateral free trade agreements and sub-regional cooperation arrangements. Furthermore, the country is expected to utilise fully the opportunities offered by e-commerce in the international markets.
The fifth agenda says combating adverse fallout of climate change and environmental degradation will be very important for the LDCs.
As an environmentally vulnerable country, Bangladesh suffers from all forms of environmental calamities. While the country is pretty good in disaster management, the inability to deal with the other issues may impede its progress in the post-graduation phase.
The sixth and final agenda speaks about renewing international solidarity and strengthening international partnerships.
Bangladesh will face an emerging global environment where aid-based development cooperation is being gradually replaced by trade and investment-driven economic cooperation. We call for creating a more enabling environment for foreign direct investment.
Dealing With Core Challenges
The ambitions and aspirations of the previous four UN Conferences for LDCs have remained largely unrealised.
It is often stated that international development did not live up to their promises in terms of the flow of concessional finance and other support measures. For example, the commitment for official development assistance had been 0.7 per cent of the gross national income of the developed countries, whereas the actual delivery was around 0.3 per cent.
International development partners, however, have offered preferential market access and flexibilities in the trade and intellectual property rights agreements.
How can the United Nations and the international community help LDCs?
- Development financing: notably grants and loans from donors and financial institutions.
- Multilateral trading system: such as preferential market access and special treatments.
- Technical assistance: notably, towards supporting trade.
What can we expect from LDC5?
The UN, LDCs, Heads of State and Government, development partners, the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians, and youth have come together to agree partnerships, commitments, innovations and plans in an effort to reach the SDGs. The must agree to take steps to stop Russia-Ukraine war anyhow.
As LDCs take the first step towards those goals, they will meet certain targets which will enable them to graduate from the least developed country status.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday asked the international community to pay their dues under international commitments and renew their commitment for real structural transformation in LDCs as these nations do not ask for charity.
“Our nations do not ask for charity; what we seek are our dues under international commitments,” she said while addressing the opening Plenary Meeting of the 5th UN LDC Conference.
“The Doha Programme of Action is yet another assurance of hope for the world’s most vulnerable countries. The international community must renew its commitment for real structural transformation in LDCs,” she said.
She said that for the graduating LDCs, there should be some incentives for their performance and they should enjoy the international support measures for LDCs for an extended period of time.
“They need enhanced investments and know-how to build their productive capacities. There can be some innovative and transitional financing mechanisms meant for them,” she said.
She also assured the developed nations that LDCs will also keep their side of the bargain.
The PM said that LDCs need sustained support to double their share of global trade while ODA targets for LDCs from developed countries deserve to be fulfilled.
“International Financial Institutions have the means to support debt sustainability in LDCs. Climate financing for LDCs should be made flexible and predictable. Technology transfer to LDCs needs to be tangible and meaningful,” she said.
She said that migrant workers need protection for their rights and well-being. “We cannot fail the 226 million youth in LDCs.”
Talking about the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine that have dealt a major blow to LDC economies, Hasina said the rise in food and fuel price in international markets have caused inflation in most LDCs.
“Added to this remain the climate crisis and long-drawn conflicts in certain LDCs,” she said.
Bangladesh, she said, is dealing with 1.2 million forcibly displaced Rohingya from Myanmar with no immediate solution.
The prime minister said that Bangladesh qualifies for LDC graduation and now looks forward to graduating in 2026.
“Bangladesh is the only LDC among the world’s 50 largest economies in terms of GDP. Our march towards graduation is also marked by our efforts at just, inclusive and sustainable development.”
She mentioned that her government has succeeded in reducing poverty rate from 31.5% to 20% within a decade.
“We are internationally recognized for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation,” she said.
She said that the social protection measures in Bangladesh constitute 16.75% of its total budget.
“We have distributed about 700,000 cost-free houses to ensure shelter for all. We rank top in South Asia in reducing gender disparity. Our literacy rate stands at 75.2%, with near universal primary education enrolment. The average life expectancy of our people is now more than 73 years,” she said.
During Covid-19 pandemic, she apprised that the government has provided 28 stimulus packages worth 6.15% of our GDP.
“Our economy proved its resilience by growing at 7.10% even in 2021-22. Per capita income grew three-folds in a decade and has reached $2,824,” she added.
She said that Bangladesh is now a reliable partner in the international supply chain.
“We are a fast-growing digital economy and a potential regional hub for connectivity and logistics. Our next vision is to build a “Smart Bangladesh” by 2041.”
Sheikh Hasina said that much of the Bangladesh story owes to international support measures it negotiated for LDCs.
In this connection she said that the duty and quota-free access it secured from most developed and emerging economies helped the private sector build a solid manufacturing base.
“The patent waivers provided under TRIPS Agreement allowed us to locally meet 98% of our pharmaceutical needs,” she said.
The exemptions under other WTO agreements enabled us to boost agricultural production and combat hunger and malnutrition. The international technical assistance we received helped us make concrete development plans, she added.
PM Hasina calls on UN to take effective measures to stop Russia-Ukraine war
The sooner the Russia-Ukraine war ends the better it will be for everyone, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said, urging the United Nations to take particular and decisive actions.
Bangladesh needs to play a key role at the Doha Conference to create political momentum and translate that momentum into a United Nations resolution with a view to ensuring international support measures for a smooth transition of the graduating least-developed countries.
Mehjabin Bhanu is a Bangladeshi columnist