Broadband Infrastructure Investment Key for Least Developed Countries to Reap Economic Gains, End Digital Divide as World Moves Online, Speakers Tell Doha Conference
DOHA, 7 March — Overcoming the digital divide through investment in broadband infrastructure will help those living in least developed countries leverage economic opportunities in a world that is increasingly moving online, speakers stressed today as the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries held its third day of debates, which also featured States offering to share their development experience with the international community.
The representative of Sweden, recalling that her country was very poor 150 years ago, said that its evolution into the world’s fourth-richest State was driven by, among other factors, education, entrepreneurship, trade and investment. Investment policies must drive the transition towards more digital economies, she said, underscoring that the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved while one third of the world’s population remains offline. Stressing the need for a shared vision of the digital future, she said closing the digital gap is key.
Mariin Ratnik, Vice-Minister for Economic and Development Affairs of Estonia, similarly pointing out that her country “started from zero” when it gained independence, spotlighted national efforts to digitalize Government services — 99 per cent of which are now conducted online. This saves Estonia 2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) every year, and further, has allowed it to achieve greater transparency, efficiency and access to public services. While adding that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, she said her country is ready to share its experiences to support its partners’ digital transformation.
Carlos Sorreta, Undersecretary for Multilateral and International Economic Relations in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, also spotlighted the fraction of people living in least developed countries without access to the Internet. Noting that the Doha Programme of Action aims to deliver much-needed support, he said that the Philippines — as a middle-income country — can share comparable experiences and provide financial resources, knowledge and technology to least developed countries.
Kairat Umarov, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, reporting that his country is currently undergoing a successful economic and political transformation, highlighted Government efforts to reduce the digital gap, attract investment and integrate into the global economy. Kazakhstan is also ready to share its experience, but he stressed the need for international organizations and donor partners to assist least developed countries with smart investments and support for the development of broadband infrastructure.
Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, Minister of State for Education and External Affairs of India, echoed that, citing the importance of addressing gaps in science, technology and innovation while calling on partner countries to increase their support for wider Internet and broadband access. He stressed, however, that all such investment must be responsible and viable to avoid burdening least developed countries with unsustainable debt. He also noted that India — one of the least developed countries at the time of its independence — is now the world’s fifth largest economy.
“Poverty is not inevitable,” pointed out Hermann Immongault, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon, noting that many emerging countries of today were vulnerable just yesterday. Structural transformation of the economies of least developed countries would improve their productive capacities, facilitate human-capital development and promote good governance. He stressed, however, that such countries’ resources are insufficient to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, calling for decisive support from the international community.
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Minister for Economy and Planning of Equatorial Guinea, also highlighted the need for such support. While the Doha Programme of Action calls on least developed countries to harness their development agenda while proposing concrete objectives, the international community must consider the difficulty of integrating these countries into the international economic system given their lack of infrastructure required to process raw materials. In this context, he advocated for building infrastructure to promote industrialization and achieve dynamic economies.
Adding to that, the representative of the International Telecommunication Union said that the deployment of sustainable connectivity infrastructure will help least developed countries benefit from the opportunities arising from increasingly digital economies. Expressing concern over gaps in Internet access between men and women and between rural and urban populations, he said that the Union will work with partners to implement projects to increase digital initiatives and mobilize resources for meaningful connectivity.
Dan Jørgensen, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy of Denmark, meanwhile, observed that many least developed countries feel that the international community has not responded adequately to the challenges they face. He reported that, for its part, Denmark has met the United Nations target of providing at least 0.7 per cent of gross national income in official development assistance (ODA) for more than 40 years. For even longer, it has spent 0.2 per cent of its gross national income to support least developed countries, and while Denmark is part of a much-too-small group of countries doing so, he expressed hope that more will join its efforts.
Tharaka Balasooriya, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, however, cited his country’s history of private lenders exploiting borrowers, trapping them in a cycle of dependence. Those who have broken the vicious borrowing cycle have done so through cooperation with like-minded groups, he stressed, joining other speakers in adding that, once a least developed country has graduated or is graduating, the international community must ensure such graduation is sustainable and irreversible.
Also speaking were Heads of State and Government, ministers and representatives of Tunisia, Portugal, Finland, Greece, Romania, Congo, Comoros, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Viet Nam, Paraguay (for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries), Bangladesh, Georgia, Lithuania, Bahrain, Italy, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Algeria, Ireland, Netherlands, France, Eritrea, Mauritius, Monaco, Iceland, United States, Syria, China, Thailand, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, Belarus, Germany and Chile, as well as the Holy See and the European Union.
Representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also spoke.
The plenary of the Conference will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 March, to continue its work.
MOUNIR BEN REJIBA, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, said that crises of food and energy, heavy indebtedness and diminishing sources of financing have created a state of uncertainty that has been further exacerbated by geopolitical tensions. Africa has been impacted the most, he pointed out, also stressing that irregular immigration poses a “staggering” challenge that must be addressed within the framework of fraternity and friendliness between Tunisia and its neighbours. For its part, he said that his country is working towards economic growth, mobilizing local resources and engaging in South-South and triangular cooperation. However, inequality is on the rise between least developed countries and the rest of the world, poverty continues to expand and the “spectre of hunger has been hung around the necks of millions”, he pointed out, stating that these realities compromise efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Against that backdrop, he said that, while the Doha Programme of Action represents a new generation of international commitments, most important is ensuring the implementation of pledges made.
FRANCISCO ANDRÉ (Portugal), aligning himself with the European Union, reaffirmed his country’s long-term commitment to priority partner countries that are either least developed or small island developing States, to whom 60 and 40 per cent of its official development assistance (ODA) is allocated, respectively. Underscoring the importance of strengthening least developed countries’ participation in global value chains and promoting open and fair trade rules, he said it is also crucial to invest in training a skilled workforce capable of driving economic growth. Noting Portugal’s contributions to the construction and renovation of schools, the establishment of teacher-training programmes and the strengthening of national health systems in those countries, he also drew attention to the “Lusophone Compact” (Compacto Lusófono), a joint initiative with the African Development Bank (AfDB), which aims to accelerate sustainable and inclusive private sector growth in African Portuguese-speaking least developed countries. Generating investment is essential, he said, adding that the private sector is a key player in developing innovative financial instruments and helping to create jobs. Portugal is also stimulating investment in the digital, green and blue sectors of least developed countries, he added.
JOHANNA SUMUVUORI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, said her country holds a strong focus on development funding, allocating one third of its financing to least developed countries. In October 2021, the country hosted the first least developed countries future forum to further the sustainable development of those States, and will fund five more in the future, with the first scheduled for the end of 2023. It is crucial to move towards climate-resilient pathways, but even if the international community were to stop all emissions today, the need for resilience would grow rapidly. Therefore, she stressed, adaptation to climate change is indispensable. Citing innovation and digitalization as key catalysts for green transition, she noted that connectivity gaps are wide, as only one third of the least developed countries’ population is online; the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has established two global innovation hubs in Helsinki. She further noted the importance of addressing gender equality, as climate change has gender consequences, calling for attention to norms and stereotypes, including the issues faced by women with disabilities, minorities and internally displaced persons.
MARIIN RATNIK, Vice-Minister for Economic and Development Affairs of Estonia, noting that the Russian Federation’s unprovoked war in Ukraine has destabilized the prices of food and fuel, said that her country provides assistance through the World Food Programme (WFP) in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan. She also welcomed efforts that have led to the export of millions of metric tons of grain, including the European Union’s Solidarity Lanes and the Black Sea Grain Initiative. She went on to recall that Estonia “started from zero” when it gained independence, noting its long journey of economic reform that has led it to today. She also spotlighted national efforts to digitalize Government services — 99 per cent of which are currently conducted online — which saves Estonia 2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) every year. Further, this digital transformation has allowed Estonia to achieve greater transparency, efficiency and access to public services. While adding that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, she said her country is ready to share best practices to support its partners’ digital transformation, including those relating to e-governance, quality education, innovation and private-sector capacity-building.
KONSTANTINOS FRAGKOGIANNIS, Deputy Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Openness of Greece, noting the challenging circumstances posed by geopolitical tensions, climate crisis and food insecurity, called for renewed commitment to sustainable recovery. Human development in least developed countries is crucial and hence a European Union priority. Stressing the importance of a tailored approach to blended finance and investment, he said, it must consider the vulnerabilities of those countries. Capacity-building to develop pipelines of bankable projects is just as necessary. Noting that most least developed countries are agricultural economies, and therefore extremely vulnerable to climate change, he said it is essential to support the resilience of their agricultural systems. Expressing support for a multidimensional vulnerability index, he said that is essential for a structural transformation. The Union and its member States remain the biggest contributors of ODA to least developed countries, he added, also calling for international tax cooperation.
TRAIAN LAURENTIU HRISTEA, Secretary of State for Global Affairs and Diplomatic Strategies of Romania, said the Doha Programme of Action provides a blueprint for least developed countries to overcome the impact of interlocking crises. Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains the road map for the international community, and it is important to accelerate its implementation, turning crises into opportunity to build momentum towards leaving no one behind. His country works to ensure predictable development and humanitarian funding, including through allocation of a minimum 10 per cent of the annual development plan to humanitarian assistance, having exceeded that threshold in 2021. The Russian Federation’s war of aggression in Ukraine is a problem that transcends regional security, and Romania acted in full solidarity, with investments in food and infrastructure, with more than 3.5 million refugees having transited the country. He noted his country also facilitated the transport of approximately 13 million tons of Ukrainian grain to Africa, 60 per cent of what has been transported by the European Union, and will increase the yearly funding allocation to 17 per cent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ODA for Africa from 2022 to 2025.
JEAN-CLAUDE GAKOSSO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Congo, observed that the world is gripped by increasing hunger, poverty, malnutrition, inequality, insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change. Expressing concern that 1 in 3 people living in least developed countries continue to struggle in abject poverty, he stressed that two realities must guide efforts to address these challenges: first, that “we cannot meet today’s needs with yesterday’s resources”, and second, that the world is changing at “break-neck” speed. A genuine response to the issues least developed countries are facing relies on better synergies to implement the Doha Programme of Action, increased South-South cooperation and a reconfiguration of the means by which multilateral and bilateral partnerships are established. Adding that these initiatives will be in vain if priorities are not clearly defined in development plans and policies, he stressed that, while development is the “major challenge of our age”, it can be achieved with sufficient political will.
DHOIHIR DHOULKAMAL (Comoros), hoping that the Doha Programme of Action will usher in a new era of engagement between least developed countries and their development partners, welcomed its commitment to invest in human capital and eliminate poverty. Gender equality, the empowerment of women, girls and youth, and structural transformation are crucial to stimulate economic growth and reduce inequality. Noting that his country is chairing the African Union in 2023, he voiced support for combating illicit financial flows. Also calling for international measures to support countries that have graduated to make sure their graduation is sustainable and irreversible, he said other priority areas include blue economy resilience, climate change adaptation and infrastructure development. Underscoring the importance of adequate financing, he said that peer-review mechanisms must ensure national ownership of development processes. Commending Qatar for its solidarity with least developed countries, he highlighted its $60 million contribution to the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action and called on all partners to mobilize additional resources.
THARAKA BALASOORIYA, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, noted that, while his country is not a member of the least developed country category, it has been closely assorted with the Conference since 1981 and it is the ideal forum for action. Citing the country’s history of private lenders exploiting borrowers, trapping them in a cycle of dependence, he noted that, following independence 75 years ago, Sri Lanka had to depend on international donor to advance towards prosperity. Once they had achieved some economic stability, they could no longer benefit from concessionary loans. Sri Lanka then had to reach for international financial markets and borrow at excessive rates — at 8 per cent interest — a recipe for disaster. He noted it is ironic that those who advocate for reform do not fulfil their own international obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Borrowers who have broken the vicious borrowing cycle have done so through cooperation with like-minded groups. Those caught in a debt trap must advocate individually and collectively. While the international financial architecture order needs an overhaul, “let us not be blind”, he stressed. Sri Lanka itself needs reforms to escape corruption and red tape, but they must be executed in a manner that is palatable for its people. Once a least developed country has graduated or is graduating, the international community must ensure it is sustainable and irreversible.
KAIRAT UMAROV, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, pointed out that some countries who will soon graduate are also landlocked developing countries. Such countries will still encounter challenges relating to their geography, and therefore, the international community must recognize and address this inequality. As the world’s largest landlocked developing country, Kazakhstan understands these challenges, and continuing, joint support efforts are crucial. Noting that three groups of States — least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States — account for 91 Member States, he stressed that, without development assistance, global challenges like hunger and poverty will never be resolved efficiently. For its part, Kazakhstan is undergoing a successful economic and political transformation, working to reduce the digital gap, attract investment and integrate into the global economy. Adding that his country is ready to share its experience, he also called on international organizations and donor partners to assist least developed countries with smart investments, assistance to create affordable education and health care, and support for the development of broadband infrastructure, complemented by enlarged, predictable ODA.
FETSUM ASSEFA, Minister for Planning and Development of Ethiopia, said that every least developed country’s desire is to bring about structural transformation and graduate from the group. It’s disheartening to witness the slowness of progress towards that goal, she said, adding that five decades later “many of us still find ourselves in this category”. Calling on the international community to exert efforts to cushion the effects of the global instability, she expressed disappointment that the commitments made to integrate these countries into global markets and grant debt relief continue to fall short of expectation. Support, including technology transfer, for the implementation of internationally agreed development goals is by no means adequate. Stressing the need to enhance productive capacities and strengthen backward and forward production linkages, she called for more foreign direct investment (FDI) flow. Her country embarked upon a complex transition and reform agenda four years ago, she said, highlighting the recent ending of a two-year internal conflict. Outlining a range of development achievements, she pointed to the Green Legacy Initiative, and the planting of more than 25 billion seedlings in just four years, as well as the implementation of a home-grown economic reform programme that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.
LEON KACOU ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) said that least developed countries represent 1.1 billion people or 14 per cent of the world’s population and represent 16 per cent of the planet surface. Those countries face low production capacities, extreme poverty, insufficient infrastructure and financial resources, which hinder the full development of their economic potential. It is therefore urgent to mobilize a new generation of support measures and to promote transformative actions. Welcoming adoption of the Doha Programme of Action, he cited the importance of funding for the effective implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Côte d’Ivoire is resolutely committed to the eradication of poverty with its Government developing an ambitious social programme, which is an integral part of successive national development plans. This good governance tool has enabled a net decline in the poverty rate in Côte d’Ivoire, which fell from 46.3 per cent in 2015 to 39.4 per cent in 2020. This Ivorian experience should be shared and supported by the international community of donors in that it constitutes an accelerator for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
LE THI THU HANG, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, emphasizing that internal strength and national competitiveness are decisive in determining a country’s development, underlined the need to consider each country’s unique conditions and capabilities. Integration into international trade is also vital for least developed countries, and to create an enabling trade environment, the international community must support a rules-based, fair and transparent multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core. On that point, she called on development partners to further facilitate market access for least developed countries. She went on to state that science, technology and innovation are necessary for sustained, green development and for allowing least developed countries to “leapfrog” their economies. She therefore called for increased technology transfer and for a scaling-up of technical assistance and capacity-building to support such countries in their green, low-carbon transitions. Adding that Viet Nam aims to become a high-income country by 2045 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, she called for international partnership towards these ends.
RAUL SILVERO, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, underscored the importance of upholding development assistance commitments, given the current high inflation and reversal of economic growth. Foreign investment from the private sector is crucial, he said, adding that not only does it stimulate economic growth, it also facilitates knowledge and technology transfer. Debt-related vulnerabilities must be addressed he said, calling on all stakeholders to form international partnerships to ensure that landlocked developing countries can emerge from this crisis moment. Reaffirming support for the Doha Programme of Action, he noted that its 10-year journey overlaps with the final decade of the 2030 Agenda.
Also speaking in his national capacity, he added that the international community must remain true to its obligations while acknowledging the uneven symmetries of development. Regional integration and sustainable development are priorities for his country because of its geographic location and vulnerability to external economic and climate shocks. Stressing the need for solidarity between different categories of least developed countries, he said that they must work together to consolidate knowledge. “We are in a race against time,” he said, expressing the hope that the Doha Programme of Action will launch a new era of prosperity for all.
RAJKUMAR RANJAN SINGH, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, said many least developed countries are already facing unsustainable debt burdens, contracting financial flows and climate pressure. The Conference therefore represents their hopes and expectations. Support must foster recovery and address structural challenges, enhancing existing economic sectors and driving economic diversification by unlocking new develop opportunities aligned with those States’ national priorities. Citing the importance of addressing gaps in science, technology and innovation, he called on partner countries to increase their support in this decade, including investing in digital infrastructure towards wider Internet and broadband access. However, all such investment must be responsible and viable to avoid burdening least developed countries with unsustainable debt, and be accompanied by skill and technology transfer to benefit local communities. He further urged developed countries to ensure that they deliver on their commitments on climate adaptation. India, he noted, played a historical role in creating the least developed country category — one of the least developed countries at the time of its independence in 1947, it has grown into becoming the world’s fifth largest economy, and has provided $19 billion in concessional loans since 2014.
CARLOS SORRETA, Undersecretary for Multilateral and International Economic Relations in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, pointed out that only 1 in 5 people living in least developed countries have access to the Internet and that 40 per cent of the world’s poor live in such States. This is an unjust situation that must be urgently rectified, including through united action to ensure that the international system remains fair — not only for States, but, more importantly, for their people. Noting that the Doha Programme of Action aims to deliver much-needed support to least developed countries by providing them with access to investment, education and infrastructure, he said that the Philippines will expand its partnership with such countries in areas such as training, scholarships and technical cooperation. Middle-income countries such as the Philippines play a vital role in operationalizing the Programme of Action, and can share comparable experiences and provide financial resources, knowledge and technology to least developed countries. Underlining the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation, he added that such cooperation must include measures designed to promote disaster risk reduction and management; micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises; and food security.
ABDUL MOMEN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, noting that his country, along with Canada, coordinated the negotiations for the Doha Programme of Action, looked forward to graduation from the least developed countries category at the end of 2026. Noting that Bangladesh was able to reduce hardcore poverty by 10.5 per cent during the period 2006 to 2020, he outlined the vision of a “knowledge-based, smart Bangladesh”. Setting out expectations as a graduating least developed State, he said that such countries would need FDI in diverse and complex manufacturing sectors to help augment productive capacities. Calling for the establishment of an international investment support centre for those countries, he also underscored the need for an agreement on waivers specific to them, under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, for an extended period beyond graduation. Graduating least developed countries must prepare for the potential loss of concessional financing from external sources. To manage a smooth transition, it is necessary to develop other innovative financing mechanisms, he said, adding that easy access to concessional financing is a must for graduating least developed countries to meet their nationally determined contributions. Also pointing out that many economies in this category are reliant on remittances, he called for reduction of transaction costs. Echoing the Secretary-General, he stressed that “LDC [least developed country] graduation must be rewarded, not punished.”
SHALVA TSISKARASHVILI (Georgia) condemned in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against its sovereign neighbour — noting that against that backdrop, the world’s most vulnerable States have been hit the hardest. This landmark Conference is therefore a once-in-a-decade opportunity to identify further actions needed to implement the Doha Programme of Action. Georgia is sharing with interested States from different regions its innovative reforms in public administration, the fight against corruption, elections, creating favourable environments for business, and innovations in taxation and customs. He emphasized that supporting least developed countries in inclusive education and life-long learning is fundamental in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, with Georgia contributing through scholarship programmes. His country further supports least developed countries and small island developing States in contributing to the work of Human Rights Council. As global assistance in climate adaptation is indispensable, he looks forward to the operationalization of the loss and damage fund.
EUGENE MARTIN NUGENT of the Holy See stressing that people are least developed countries’ greatest resource, said that any policy or programme that truly aims to support such countries must put people at its centre. This means promoting a development model that advances the integral human development of 880 million people. He also stressed that eradicating poverty remains the most-urgent challenge that the international community must collectively address to ensure that all those in such countries become “dignified agents of their own destinies” and can develop their full potential, support themselves and their families and participate in society. The extent of this challenge becomes more apparent when poverty is measured through comprehensive criteria that looks beyond income, accounting for non-monetary factors, such as access to education, safe food and water, sanitation and electricity. Against that backdrop, he stressed that policies and programmes designed to implement the Doha Programme of Action must respond to the “paradoxical reality” that, while enough food is produced to feed everyone, starvation remains a daily reality for the millions who suffer and die from hunger.
EGIDIJUS MEILŪNAS (Lithuania) noting that least developed countries are the first to suffer from war, climate change and natural disasters, said the overall success of the “no one left behind” approach can be measured by their development progress. Highlighting his country’s bilateral and multilateral support for them, he said Lithuania will also be contributing to the Yemen Human Response Plan. Recalling his country’s expression of support for the right to development at the Human Rights Council last month, he called on partner countries and civil society organizations in the category to also focus on integrating the full range of human rights, from political to cultural, into development processes, from day one. The social, economic and legal rights of women and girls are crucial, he said, underscoring that they must have full access to education, health services and political participation. On Ukraine, he said: “Do not believe a word of Moscow’s propaganda lies.” Stressing that the Russian Federation is responsible for driving up prices and thus the resulting humanitarian consequences in least developed countries, he called on them to condemn its actions and “isolate the aggressor”.
JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain), noted that least developed countries represent 23 per cent of the world’s population, trapped in a vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and epidemics. Bahrain’s Government is strengthening its cooperation with the United Nations, and through the country’s Royal Humanitarian Foundation, provides assistance in kind and financing to many least developed countries affected by wars, conflicts and natural hazards. Bahrain has launched initiatives to support all efforts to achieve sustainable development and promote the use of technology in education, and next week will host the Interparliamentary Union Assembly on the theme of peaceful coexistence and fighting intolerance. His Government is further using its experience to further launch projects in the areas of health, technology and security to assist States, also promoting its private sector through banks and the business community for their benefit. He noted that Bahrain leads the Middle East in indices related to freedom of investment, free trade and enabling legislation, and cooperates vigorously with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). He called on the international community to import from least developed countries and help in relieving debt burdens.
HERMANN IMMONGAULT, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon, said that, while certain promises made in previous Programmes of Action were not met, numerous support mechanisms have allowed some former least developed countries to graduate from that status. While efforts must continue to strengthen export capacities, develop new trade strategies, attract greater FDI and mobilize greater financial resources for least developed countries, the international community must also support countries like Gabon in meeting structural challenges, even though they are classified as middle-income countries. He went on to note that, in many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated extreme poverty. Stressing that “poverty is not inevitable”, he pointed out that many emerging countries of today were vulnerable just yesterday. Structural transformation of the economies of least developed countries, he said, would improve their productive capacities, facilitate human-capital development and promote good governance. Adding that least developed countries’ resources are insufficient to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he called for decisive support from the international community to develop such countries’ productive capacities and institutions so they can address new challenges.
MARIA TRIPODI, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, expressed concern that, even though the international community is halfway through the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals are far from being realized. Least developed countries are on the front lines of climate change, because of their vulnerability to catastrophic phenomena and desertification, while also suffering from food insecurity. Highlighting the work of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, she said that 10 out of 20 States that are prioritized in its development assistance are within this category. Italy focuses on gender equality, food security and health in those countries, she said, adding that multilateral action through the United Nations and European Union is one of the main pillars of her country’s foreign policy. The Doha Programme of Action is focused on multidimensional responses, she said, reaffirming Italy’s commitment to implementing that agreement.
CHIEKH NIANG (Senegal) recalled that, in 2011, the international community pledged that 50 per cent of least developed States (23 countries) would be reclassified at the conclusion of the Istanbul Programme of Action; however, only four countries achieved that goal. Today, the aim is to ensure that 15 of the 46 States — less than 34 per cent — meet graduation criteria in 2031. He cited debt burdens, rising interest rates and slowing economic growth risk, plunging many countries into a debt crisis — given that 60 per cent of the poorest countries are currently at high risk of debt distress or are already overindebted. He cited the reminder from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that most poor countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, will see their sovereign bonds mature in 2024, requiring urgent action. Least developed countries require assistance to access capital markets at feasible costs and on affordable terms, broaden tax bases and stronger budgetary systems to reduce dependence on ODA. He stressed that hunger and malnutrition can only be eradicated through resilient agriculture capable of ensuring food sovereignty. It is further unacceptable that half the world’s people without access to energy live in those countries.
DAN JØRGENSEN, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy of Denmark, observed that many least developed countries feel that the international community has not responded adequately to the challenges that they face. “I understand that,” he said, stating that the world can — and should — do more. For its part, Denmark is committed to helping least developed countries fight poverty and adapt to climate change. For more than 40 years, it has met the United Nations target of providing at least 0.7 per cent of GNI to ODA, and for even longer, Denmark has spent 0.2 per cent of such income to support least developed countries. Noting that his country is part of a much-too-small group of countries doing this, he expressed hope that more will join. He went on to state that mobilization of domestic resources for development remains key to funding public services and building democratic institutions to drive development and improve accountability. However, he also underlined the need to look beyond domestic resources and ODA to mobilize the funds needed to eradicate poverty and respond to the climate crisis, including through private, blended and innovative finance.
UMARO SISSOCO EMBALÓ, President of Guinea-Bissau, noted that his country was able to attain a satisfactory level of implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action during the period 2011-2020. “We placed a firm bet on good governance,” he said, highlighting policies aimed at reducing corruption, increasing accountability, ensuring food security and reducing poverty. Also noting achievements in the circulation of capital and social sector investments, he added that the re-establishment of peace in his country will enable the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action and Agenda 2063.
Despite financial restrictions in the international market, least developed countries such as his are focusing on climate change adaptation and building resilience to external shocks. The Conference must produce commitments to meet their specific needs to ensure that they can help build a world of peace and happiness for everyone, he said.
MAKSYM SUBKH (Ukraine) pointed out that least developed countries are the most impacted by the crisis of food, energy and finance resulting from the Russian Federation’s war in his country. Moscow’s aggressive behaviour is undermining the international community’s ability to address global threats, such as food security and climate change; rather, it is exacerbating these challenges. Against that backdrop, he welcomed the international community’s coordinated efforts to find acceptable solutions to mitigate the global food crisis. Noting that the “Grain from Ukraine” programme aims to help countries on the verge of hunger in Africa and Asia, he pointed out that, since the opening of the Black Sea grain corridor, Ukraine has dispatched more than 2.7 million tons of grain to countries on those continents. Calling on all countries to ensure the uninterrupted functioning of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, he further underscored that, as soon as a comprehensive, just and lasting peace is achieved in Ukraine, common action to address other global challenges will be more efficient.
JOSÉ BLANCO (Dominican Republic), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Alliance of Small Island States, stressed the need to ensure that the most vulnerable are heard. The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without helping people facing vulnerabilities, including women, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. He urged the international community to consider the specific situation of least developed countries that are also small island developing States, drawing attention to the unique situation of Haiti, a middle-income country that shares a border with the Dominican Republic. He voiced concern over Haiti´s economic situation, political instability, natural hazards and insecurities caused by gangs that currently control the critical infrastructure in the country. The situation in Haiti puts considerable pressure on the Dominican Republic, he cautioned, adding that Haiti will not be able to achieve full development without food security. It is urgent for the international community to devote its resources to Haiti and support the aspirations of its people.
DIANA JANSE (Sweden), recalling that 150 years ago her country was very poor, added that, from 1870 to 1970, it increased the productivity of every working hour 17-fold. “My country became the fourth richest in the world and one of the most equitable,” she said, adding that its evolution was driven by education and entrepreneurship, institutions and investments, trade and trust and rule of law. No country is doomed to remain poor or destined to stay rich, she stressed, adding that international and regional trade are key to economic development. Highlighting Sweden’s new emphasis on combining trade and development assistance, she called for deeper integration of developing countries in global trade. Investment policies must drive the transition towards more digital and green economies, she said, adding that the international community will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals when one third of the world’s population remains offline. Stressing the need for a shared vision of the digital future, she said it’s essential to close the digital gap, including with regard to gender. The Internet needs to be free, open and safe, she emphasized, adding that “democratic values and human rights are just as important online as offline”. Noting that her country is the co-facilitator, together with Rwanda, of the intergovernmental process for the Global Digital Compact, she called it a critical step in shaping digital cooperation.
JUTTA URPILAINEN, European Commissioner for International Partnerships of the European Union, pointed out that the bloc and its 27 member States are the world’s largest provider of ODA to least developed countries, noting that, in 2021, such support amounted to €16.5 billion. The Union is also a top export market for such countries, and its “Everything but Arms” trade initiative contributed to €22 billion worth of imports from these States. Further, she said that the bloc supports regional initiatives that benefit least developed countries, highlighting its partnership with the African Union to support the African Continental Free Trade Area. The European Union is also committed to the ODA target of 0.2 per cent of gross national income, and its Global Gateway projects totalling €300 billion are investments to deliver critical infrastructure in sectors including digital, climate, energy, health, transport, education and research.
She went on to note that, together with Rwanda and Senegal, the European Union is making vaccine production for Africa in Africa a reality. Emphasizing that enhancing least developed countries’ resilience also means addressing climate change, she pointed out that the Union is the largest provider of climate finance. At the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the bloc pushed global economic Powers to deliver on their commitments, she noted, adding: “We walk the talk.” She also stressed that investing in digital infrastructure is key for the future, reporting that the Union plans to invest in a submarine fibre-optic cable to connect the bloc with Africa along the Atlantic coast. In 2022, the international community adopted the Doha Programme of Action, she recalled, stating that “today, we are here to match this vision with the tools for concrete delivery”.
RAMTANE LAMAMRA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said that the repercussions of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have made the challenges for least developed countries even more pressing. Specifically, he pointed to the fluctuation in the food supply chain and the departure of capital from emerging markets. Against this backdrop, he called for efficient collaboration to prevent these crises from undermining strides made over the years, including eradicating poverty and inequality and achieving better governance and economic reforms. To achieve structural change, it is critical to adopt the Doha Programme of Action, he asserted, stressing the importance of tangible tools that will encourage all countries to uphold their commitments. Moreover, it is essential to strengthen food supply chains to guarantee food security in least developed countries, providing them with tools and allowing them to diversify their economies. He further advocated for restructuring of these countries’ debt and supporting economic policies aimed at diversification to strengthen foreign investments and create new decent job opportunities. Turning to reinforced integration in his region, he pointed to the road project between Mauritania and Algeria, linking the latter to West Africa.
AINE HEARNS (Ireland), noting that over 800 million people are suffering from hunger, said her country is among those with the highest proportion of development assistance going to least developed countries. This reflects Ireland’s commitment to building a fairer world, she said, adding that this informs not only the geography of its work, but its focus on gender equality, global health, education and across the 2030 Agenda. Stressing the need for global coordination of sustainable food systems transformation, she said the least developed countries must be at the centre of this work, as they are most fiercely affected by global food crises. A principled, needs-based approach to humanitarian action is crucial, she said, highlighting Ireland’s life-saving support to the people at the centre of crises, especially women and girls. Further, Ireland is determined to make the wider multilateral system more inclusive and representative, she said, adding that, since least developed countries are frequently the most affected by global challenges, their Governments, experts and civil society voices must have more influence. This will be especially critical as the global architecture on climate finance takes shape, particularly regarding adaption and loss and damages, she said.
KITTY VAN DER HEIJDEN, Vice-Minister for International Cooperation of the Netherlands, urged those present to direct development efforts where they matter most — namely, addressing the root causes of poverty and drivers of conflict that affect so many least developed countries. This requires tackling structural inequalities, the lack of good governance and the rule of law and the global scramble for scarce resources. This is why Dutch development policy focuses on those places suffering from fragility, marginalization and endemic poverty, she stressed, stating that “we are not there because it’s easy”; rather, this is where efforts must be concentrated. She went on to note that approximately 60 per cent of the population of least developed countries is younger than 25, underlining the need to give youth a proactive role in shaping a sustainable, equitable world. Further, while women and girls are the most vulnerable to shocks, they also carry tremendous potential for change. However, that potential is underutilized because of persistent gender inequality. Stressing that her country’s feminist foreign policy will continue to strive for equal rights everywhere and always, she also spotlighted the importance of water security.
GABRIEL MBAGA OBIANG LIMA, Minister for Economy and Planning of Equatorial Guinea, recalled that his country graduated from the list of least developed countries in 2017, at a time when it was going through economic vulnerability due to a drop in oil prices, high unemployment and other social impacts. This led it find new mechanisms to diversify its economy. In 2019, the Government adopted a new socioeconomic development plan focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. To overcome its development challenges, the country is focusing more on South-South and triangular cooperation which can advance technology transfer. The Doha Programme of Actions calls on least developed countries to harness their development agenda while proposing concrete objectives. However, the international community must ask how difficult it is to integrate these countries into the international economic system, given that they lack the infrastructure required to process raw materials. In this context, he advocated for building infrastructure to promote industrialization and achieve dynamic economies.
CHRYSOULA ZACHAROPOULOU (France), noting that the last two years have wiped out much of the progress achieved towards the Sustainable Development Goals, expressed concern about the fragmentation between the North and South, and between the East and the West at a time when collaboration is more important than ever. Least developed countries must be at the heart of the international system, but not as passive recipients of one-way charity, she said, adding that her country has left behind this logic and is focusing on solidarity and partnerships. Noting that, during the French presidency of the Council of the European Union it adopted a statement of commitment to this category of countries, she called for a new global financial compact. The old international order is unable to respond to current challenges, she said, adding that France refuses to pit countries against each other. The reform of international financial architecture is of importance to everyone, she said, adding that “it’s not G77 versus G20”. Further, there can be no human development in a world that is three degrees hotter, she stressed.
SOPHIA TESFAMARIAM (Eritrea), noting that the country has not been spared development challenges, said that even after it emerged from a 30-year arduous war for independence, Eritrea was plagued by the border conflict and unjust sanctions. Though its development endeavours were derailed, the resilience of its people helped the country anchor its economy on key sectors while focusing on the growth of infrastructure and capacity development. Eritrea has managed to achieve progress in climate-smart agriculture and has expanded its fishery infrastructure to tap into the export fish market. It is also improving access to water, and has built 770 dams over three decades, increasing the rural population’s access of water, from 7 per cent to a remarkable 70 per cent. Education is fully subsidized by Government at all levels, she said, adding that the number of schools went from 526 in 1991 to 2,254 in 2021. The country is highly endowed with renewable energy sources, but progress has been slow due to lack of investment, she said, adding that like other developing countries, Eritrea is racing against time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
JAGDISH KOONJUL (Mauritius) observed that, while the goal of leaving no one behind is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, the world’s most vulnerable countries are facing myriad crises — soaring prices for food and energy, growing inequality, increasing hunger and looming recession, among others. These challenges are severely eroding least developed countries’ ability to invest in recovery, resilience and long-term sustainability. Most least developed countries and small island developing States are a long way away from recovering from the pandemic, and unless the world takes immediate action to increase support for these countries, the gap between the rich and poor will only widen. When the least developed countries category was established more than 50 years ago, he recalled, the main objective was not facilitating graduation from such status; rather, it was overcoming the obstacles to such States’ development. Adding that every country should have the right and aspiration to graduate, he stressed that graduating countries should benefit from a set of measures that accompany them until they can “stand on their own”.
ISABELLE ROSABRUNETTO, Director General of the Department of External Relations and Cooperation of Monaco, noted that her country aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, also pointing out that Monaco is the biggest contributor per capita to the Green Climate Fund, which mainly focuses on least developed countries. Further, since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, Monaco has doubled its ODA, which is provided primarily as subsidies and mostly to least developed countries. Stressing that her country’s work in this area is rooted in humanitarian principles, she rejected the politicization of aid and the shrinking humanitarian space. Monaco does not provide assistance for economic or political gain — rather, its impartial assistance is given based on peoples’ needs. She went on to stress that, while international attention is focused on Ukraine, resources must not be redirected from other regions. “Crises are not in competition — they add up,” she said. She added that her country will increase assistance to local actors, as homegrown solutions — rooted in local realities — are more relevant than imported ones.
THÓRDÍS SIGURDARDOTTIR (Iceland) stressed that gender equality is essential to achieving sustained economic growth and addressing climate change is key for sustainable development. The Doha Programme of Action will serve as a blueprint for the coming years, she said, highlighting its emphasis on eradicating poverty, investing in people, achieving gender equality and addressing environmental degradation. In this context, she drew attention to Iceland´s contributions to climate finance and its assistance to some of the most fragile countries. Stressing the need to expand on new and innovative partnerships and funding streams, she noted that domestic resource mobilization must be strengthened, and illicit financial flows curbed. The external debt burden and debt service obligations are preventing far too many least developed countries from investing in their people and recovering from COVID-19. In this context, she called for a holistic approach to financing for development.
ISOBEL COLEMAN (United States), noting that her country is among the largest and most consistent partners to least developed countries, said it annually disburses $11 billion in development assistance. Congratulating Maldives, Samoa, Equatorial Guinea and Vanuatu for graduating from this category since the fourth Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul, she added that the Doha Programme of Action is a blueprint for achieving sustainable development. Noting that the agreement prioritizes resilience over recovery, she said the central innovation of the 2030 Agenda is the recognition that the Sustainable Development Goals are interrelated. The Goals on food security, health and education are foundational to strong economies, she said, adding that her country is also scaling up international climate finance. Foreign assistance alone will not be enough, she said, calling for private sector investment, sustainable development bonds and blended finance. In order to ensure market confidence in its partner least developed countries, the United States is providing political risk insurance and loan guarantees. This Conference is part of the solution, she said, adding that no one should be left behind on the path to 2030.
HUSSAM EDIN ALAA (Syria) said that the injustice of the current economic system is the reason for the increased debt crisis in least developed countries, where half of the population lives in poverty. He therefore supported calls to reform that system to make it more supportive of least developed countries’ pursuit of sustainable development. He went on to note that least developed countries — whose emissions do not exceed 1.1 per cent of the global total — are suffering the most from climate change. Further, natural hazards have sent a warning sign to the international community that it must support building resilience in least developed and small island developing States. Recalling the earthquake that struck Syria on 6 February, he said that the Government carried out rescue operations and worked to facilitate the delivery of relief to all areas affected by the disaster. Such efforts included opening two additional border crossings to allow the delivery of assistance to those affected by the earthquake in northern Syria. Welcoming the rapid support his country received from States and international organizations, he also supported international calls for lifting unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria.
HONGBO WANG (China) underscored that it is the responsibility of the international community to help least developed countries achieve sustainable development. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, many countries are facing setbacks to their economic recovery, including inflation and high energy crises. The international community should be more understanding to the practical challenges faced by least developed countries, fully respect their autonomous choices and take practical steps to meet their pressing aspirations. To this end, States should deliver on their commitments and scale up technical and financial support to least developed countries. China has never stopped its support to developing countries aimed at facilitating their socioeconomic progress, she stressed, reiterating her country’s commitment to boosting international development cooperation and to South-South cooperation, and actively supporting food and energy security. Moreover, China strives to create new opportunities to building a global economy that delivers great benefits to all people. She called on the international community to support least developed countries in line with the Doha Programme of Action.
PHANTIPHA IAMSUDHA EKAROHIT (Thailand), noting that her country has experienced different stages of national development, stressed the importance of global partnerships. In 2021, Thailand provided over $72 million in development cooperation, she said, adding that human resource development is a key component of its initiatives. Highlighting training courses, technical cooperation projects and scholarships offered by her country in various fields, she pointed to the Global South-South Development Expo held in Bangkok, with the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. Stressing the need for universal health coverage as a foundation for an inclusive social protection system, she added: “After all, no one is safe until everyone is safe.” Homegrown and locally driven development approaches should be promoted, she said, drawing attention to her country’s Bio-Circular Green Economy Model, which promotes inclusive growth while taking into account environmental concerns.
SIMON UPTON (New Zealand) noting that many were being left behind even prior to the onset of the pandemic, said that the Doha Programme of Action is the road map for the collective response. It offers least developed countries a path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 despite a challenging global outlook, and he welcomed its ambitions in areas such as health, education, finance, structural reform and climate action. To successfully implement the Programme, the international community must move beyond per capita income as the predominant measure of progress. On that point, he supported the adoption of the multidimensional vulnerability index, which more fully recognizes the unique vulnerabilities of small island developing States. He went on to detail his country’s support for its neighbours in tackling climate change through an approach that recognizes each country’s sovereignty, authority, knowledge and expertise. While its current focus is in the Pacific, he added that New Zealand will work to apply a similar approach in other regions.
STEN ARNE ROSNES (Norway) warned that climate change — with its devastating impacts on people — is among the greatest threats facing humanity. The communities that are most vulnerable and have the least resources are being hit the hardest, he said, calling for climate-resilient development. He observed a widening gap between what is being done and what needs to be done to safeguard the futures of countries that are vulnerable to climate change, particularly those with the lowest incomes. The number of people affected by hunger and food insecurity worldwide has increased as a result of the pandemic and the war against Ukraine. This at a time when climate change is leading to more extreme weather events that are having a severe impact on food production. In this context, he stressed the crucial importance of close collaboration with the target groups to find effective solutions as part of the food security strategy activities, including efforts to combat inequality and ensure the inclusion of the most vulnerable groups.
LACHLAN MCLEOD (Australia), noting the erasure of development gains due to COVID-19 at a time when the climate crisis poses an existential threat, said his country is redirecting its development assistance in line with the Doha Programme of Action. Australia has given $1.5 billion to support gender equality and has forged ambitious climate partnerships. Support for least developed countries, including small island developing States, must be smart and practical, he said, calling for an evidence-based way to understand their vulnerability. It is also necessary to review the indices and timelines associated with graduation from the least developed countries category, so that graduation becomes a genuine aspiration for countries and not a hardship. Graduation processes must build resilience, he said, adding that urgent climate action is key. Calling for more ambition and more rapid implementation, he said Australia is working hard to decarbonize its economy and will work closely with “our Pacific family” on loss and damage.
ALEKSEI MALAFEI (Belarus) supported consolidating international efforts on development issues, also stating that considering the national realities of least developed countries will help the international community successfully implement the Doha Programme of Action. For its part, Belarus cooperates with least developed countries in the service and agricultural sectors, also providing targeted humanitarian assistance. Supporting collective international efforts to fight against hunger, he stressed that current worsening food security is not only a result of compounding global crises — it also stems from the poorly conceived sanctions policies of developed States. He therefore called for an end to this negative practice of imposing unlawful unilateral coercive measures, also spotlighting his country’s commitment to accelerate development in least developed countries.
Mr. FISCHBACH (Germany) said that, due to multiple global crises, progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals has been slower than anticipated. Indeed, the divide between the rich and poor is widening both between and within countries, he said, stressing that this trend must be reversed. As one of the largest donors of development assistance to least developed countries, Germany considers it crucial to continue its cooperation with large emerging economies with a view towards tackling global challenges like climate change. To this end, Germany has increased its support to least developed countries. Furthermore, Germany is pursuing a feminist development policy to promote social justice and to address the need to the most vulnerable people worldwide. One of his Government’s priorities is fighting hunger and inequality, he said, stressing that COVID-19, climate change, violent conflicts and the Russian Federation’s illegal war against Ukraine have shaken the global food system to its core. He also detailed Germany´s initiative to reduce poverty and equality.
Ms. GONZALEZ (Chile) noting that interruptions in education during the pandemic will have lasting consequences for the development of least developed countries, pointed to the raft of commitments in the six priority areas of the Doha Programme of Action. Welcoming the proposal to establish an online university, she said women and girls must be included in educational initiatives because they are the most affected by poverty and discrimination. Her country’s feminist foreign policy also focuses on climate cooperation, she said, adding that Chile was among the first Latin American countries to eliminate tariffs on imports from least developed countries. Stressing the importance of South-South cooperation, she said her country is ready to share experiences from its own development process. The new 2022-2031 commitments will need support from the private sector, she said.
CÉCILE RIALLANT, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that human mobility is integral to societies and a fundamental component of human development. Least developed countries represent the full range of contemporary opportunities and challenges associated with human mobility across the humanitarian, development and peace spectrums, she observed. Remittances continue to be vital to many such countries, especially with declining ODA in recent years. Noting that major global transformations are unfolding — such as demographic change, unprecedented urbanization, societal polarization, distrust in the multilateral system and a tightening economic outlook — she said that including mobile populations in sustainable development efforts is part of the solution. This can help reduce intersecting forms of inequality that are passed from generation to generation and is essential to prevent and resolve situations of displacement. “Human mobility is a global common good, not a problem to be solved,” she added.
Mr. MCOMISCH, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted UNESCO’s commitment to developing the tremendous human capital of least developed countries and building on the power of education, sciences and information. The Global Convention on High Education came into force on 5 March, creating an opportunity to foster the circulation of knowledge and improvement of the higher education system, he said, calling on least developed countries to ratify the Convention. He stressed that unlocking scientific potential is essential to helping those countries rise to climate challenges by restoring ecosystems. In this context, he highlighted that UNESCO will empower African scientists to establish the first greenhouse gas inventories of the Central African tropical forest. Moreover, UNESCO will help coastal States in the Indian Ocean to advance sustainable ocean management. Unlocking the potential of least developed countries means building on their rich cultural heritage, he asserted.
COSMAS ZAVAZAVA, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), highlighted the role of successful connectivity in inclusive and sustainable development. Since 2011, the share of population using the Internet has increased tenfold, he said, while expressing concern about the gaps between men and women, as well as that between urban and rural populations. Globally, 2.7 billion people remain offline, he said, adding that the Union will work with partners to implement projects to increase digital initiatives and mobilize resources for meaningful connectivity. Acknowledging that there is much work to be done, he called on the international community to support a multi-stakeholder approach that engages Governments, private sector and civil society. The deployment of affordable and sustainable connectivity infrastructure will help least developed countries benefit from the opportunities arising from the digital economies, he stressed.