Sounding alarm bells Ban calls for more aid to landlocked poor countries

2 October 2008Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the international community to show the same generosity in helping the world’s 31 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) overcome their trade-hobbling isolation as it did last week when it pledged significant new funding to help poor States in general achieve development goals. “Today we are sounding alarm bells for the Almaty Programme of Action,” he told a High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly devoted to a mid-term review of the Programme, a 2003 plan setting out specific measures to compensate LLDCs for their geographical handicaps with improved market access and trade facilitation. Although LLDCs represent about 15 per cent of States, their share of world exports has remained well below 1 per cent, according to United Nations figures. Mr. Ban noted that the “alarm bells” he sounded last week at the Assembly’s High-Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the ambitious targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 to slash poverty, hunger, preventable illness and a host of other socio-economic ills, all by 2015, sparked an “unprecedented commitment” of as much as $16 billion.“I hope for a similarly hope-inspiring response,” he said. “Let us use the success of the High-Level Event on the MDGs as inspiration for this review.”It is vital that landlocked developing countries increase their volume of exports to meet the MDGs, yet the biggest obstacle to this is the very high cost of transport, in some cases exceeding 70 per cent of the export value, Mr. Ban told the opening session of the two-day meeting, calling for more vigorous international cooperation.Despite some encouraging progress since 2003 in improving transit transport policies, much more needs to be done in infrastructure development as roads and railways remain inadequate, and many ports use obsolete cargo handling equipment, he said. Integrated transport networks must be developed and customs operations modernized.Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto also said much more needed to be done to help the LLDCs. “Geographical realities coupled with critical infrastructure deficiencies, as well as cumbersome border crossing procedures, continue to pose daunting impediments to the external trade of landlocked developing countries,” he told the plenary.“Today, high trade transaction costs remain the single most important obstacle to the equitable and competitive access by landlocked countries to global markets.”Citing tangible progress, Cheick Sidi Diarra, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), told a news conference that official development aid (ODA) to LLDCs grew from $10.1 billion in 2000 to $16.1 billion in 2006. Direct investment more than tripled over the past five years from $3.9 billion to $14 billion.Regional and sub-regional cooperation was also one of the success stories, he said, citing the inter-Asian highway and the strengthening of airports in Africa. The World Bank reported that in 2007, landlocked countries spent an average of 49 days for their exports to reach a seaport, down from 57 days in 2006. The time spent for importing decreased to 56 from 72.But, he added: “It is increasingly recognized that high transportation costs constitute a more important barrier than tariffs.”

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