OP-ED: World’s “Least Developed” Countries Must Emerge Too

Posted on 15 May 2011 by admin

By Cheick Sidi Diarra*

UNITED NATIONS, May (IPS) — The remarkable rise of emerging economies has become commonplace in public debates. Yet, not long ago, countries like China, Indonesia, Brazil, and Turkey were considered off-limits by many foreign investors.

Today, as the world emerges from its worst recession in decades, its recovery owes much to the strong growth recorded in these countries. In a matter of years, they have lifted millions out of poverty. Their domestic consumption has reached record levels, boosting demand in commodities exports around the world.

The rise of emerging economies is one of the defining trends of our time. One only wishes more countries could emulate them.

As it happens, 48 candidates are looking to take up to the challenge.

In United Nations vocabulary, these are the least developed countries (LDCs): 33 in Africa, 14 in Asia and one (Haiti) in the Caribbean. Usually, they are mentioned in connection with the ills they endure: endemic disease and poverty, low economic and human capital, bad governance and civil conflicts.

Though they are the world’s most vulnerable countries, LDCs have what it takes to become the global economy’s next bright spot: an abundant and mostly young workforce, the most prized natural resources (petrol, metals, minerals, crops, and arable land) and a growing drive to attract investors.

By most accounts, positive change is taking root in some LDCs. Over the past decade, their economic growth has been consistently strong. Already, some of these countries rank high on the list of future business hubs.

But with over half of their 900 million inhabitants surviving on less than one dollar per day, the Least Developed Countries need to do more. They need to pursue the path of economic reforms they have embarked on, while fighting corruption and mobilising domestic resources.

At the same time, development partners must maintain their support for LDCs. The positive decade-long trend in disbursements of Official Development Assistance (ODA) must continue. Previous commitments by rich countries to abolish all trade barriers for LDC products must be honoured. Through the adoption of special regimes, developed countries should also encourage their corporations to expand into LDCs’ productive sectors. Fiscal incentives, rewards for transfer of technology, and facilitated access to credit and market for local and foreign investors are some of the tolls rich countries could use.

Fortunately, the newly-emerging economies of the world can, and have been playing a role in the LDC resurgence. South-South cooperation in the form of investment and trade deals with the LDCs is on the way to surpassing economic inputs from the North, and development assistance from the South is increasing as well.

At the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, to be held 9-13 May in Istanbul, Turkey, world leaders will sign a new action plan for LDCs that will replace a previous one, agreed upon in Brussels ten years ago. As this gathering takes place, it is worth noting that much like emerging economies helped avert a full-blown global economic crisis, the world’s most vulnerable countries could become the world’s line of defence against future shocks. (END/© IPS)

*Cheick Sidi Diarra is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

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