In August 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed GYAN CHANDRA ACHARYA as Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. A former Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Acharya also served as Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations. He served as Chair of the Global Coordination Bureau of the Group of Least Developed Countries since 2009 leading to the successful conclusion of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries and the follow-up process. A passionate advocate of LDC rights, Acharya, 53, spoke to LDC NEWS on contemporary issues. Follows excerpts of the interview
Two years after the UN LDC IV, how do you see the progress so far towards fulfilling the commitments made during the conference?
Ans: It’s too early to make a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA). So far, there are grounds for being optimistic yet there are reasons for cautions. The general poverty level is coming down in many LDCs and good progress has been made in meeting some of the critical MDGs. But there is also worry that in conflict affected and some other LDCs, there has not been much progress either in poverty reduction or meeting other MDGs. Structural transformation through building productive capacity, human and social development and building resilience are some of our key objectives, and we would like to see the LDCs moving towards that direction.
The Istanbul Programme of Action places great emphasis on mainstreaming the priorities and actions of the Programme into relevant planning documents by least developed countries, partner countries and the international community. I am happy to note that many LDCs have started to align their development plans and frameworks with the priority areas of action of the Istanbul Programme of Action, to foster development and achieve graduation. Strong political will at the highest level and broad participation have underpinned these mainstreaming efforts.
Development partners also have started to mainstream the provisions of the Istanbul Programme of Action into their development cooperation frameworks. The UN system organizations have also been integrating the IPoA provisions in their respective work programme.
Some countries are in the process of graduation or have qualified for graduation. According to the Committee for Development Policy report of 2012, six LDCs have met the criteria for graduation. Such progress in LDCs demonstrates that the partnerships have yielded some results. But we have to go a long way towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people in LDCs.
On the other hand, the world economy, especially the economies of the traditional donor countries continue to face serious difficulties in terms of growth, employment and fiscal balances. The recent decline in ODA is a major concern, but it appears to be due to the fiscal constraints that the donor countries are facing at home. Despite this, one bright spot in development cooperation is that some key donors have maintained or increased support to LDCs, even though the collective development assistance going to LDCs as the percentage of GNI has slightly reduced in 2011. We will continue to urge the global partners not to reduce the allocation of ODA as the LDCs face more challenges than others, and are dependent upon the global community to uplift their status. On trade related issues, we are glad that LDCs are expanding the volume of trade, even though much is desired to reflect their full potentials in terms of their share of international trade.
In some other areas, OHRLLS has already initiated a process to undertake a joint gap and capacity analysis with a view to establishing a Technology Bank for LDCs in order to contribute to productive capacity building, besides advocating for more support for infrastructure development, food security and sustainable agriculture development, acceleration of MDGs, access to energy and building resilience. We have also begun our work on investment promotion regimes for LDCs to stimulate foreign direct investment through collective home and host country measures.
In the wake of the debt crisis and economic downturn being faced by many developed countries, how optimistic are you that the commitments made during the UN LDC IV would be fulfilled?
The economic woes of the developed countries are spilling over to all the countries through a weaker demand for their exports and heightened volatility in capital flows and commodity prices. The LDCs have not been immune to the impacts of the crisis.
The outlook for LDCs entails several downside risks. A more pronounced deterioration in the global economic environment would negatively affect all exporters through falling terms of trade, reduced foreign direct investment and trade barriers, while others may be affected by falling worker remittances. Falling aid flows might limit external financing options for LDCs in the outlook.
However, as I have just said, the decline in ODA appears to be a temporary phenomenon caused by the difficulties faced by donor countries. Recently, the international community has reaffirmed their commitment in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to assist the least developed countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development and to effectively implement the Istanbul Programme of Action and to fully integrate its priority areas into the framework for action. In my own contacts with the High Officials of donor countries, I get assurances of continued strong support for LDCs, because of their particular vulnerabilities.
The recent European Union document entitled “Council conclusions on the European Union’s approach to trade, growth and development in the next decade” calls for greater differentiation in the design and implementation of European Union trade, investment and development policies in order to further sharpen the focus on least developed countries. Specifically, the European Union envisages focusing Aid for Trade more on least developed countries and supporting and facilitating their accession to WTO.
These are important signals that the development partners will do their part in honouring their commitments in the IPoA. We will continue to work towards that direction.
Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States have their own specific problems and development challenges. As UN’s High Representative, how do you plan to bring their agenda on top of the UN and donor’s table?
It is natural that each group of countries has its own specificities in terms of its respective development problematique. However, two key salient features are common to all, namely persistent poverty and vulnerability. LDCs and most of LLDCs and SIDS are countries where extreme poverty is wide-spread and intractable. They also face deep structural challenges to their economic growth and development. All these groups suffer from a variety of vulnerabilities, arising from economic, political, geographical, and now environmental and climate change-related factors. Therefore I see these countries collectively through the imperatives of fighting extreme poverty and ending vulnerabilities, while remaining keenly conscious of inter-country or inter-group differences.
The three groups of countries have their specific programmes of actions, namely the IPoA for LDCs, APoA for LLDCs and BPoA for Small Island Development States. The programmes take into account the specific constraints and vulnerabilities of each group of countries, and provide specific frameworks for addressing their particular vulnerabilities. My office is working seamlessly to prioritize the special development challenges of these groups of countries in the global development agenda and action, including outcomes of major UN Conferences and Summits including such as the Rio+20 outcome and the post 2015 UN development agenda.
I have been undertaking a comprehensive campaign to mobilize global support in favour of the implementation of the programmes of action for LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS. I believe that in this day and age of globalisation, sustainable development of these countries is not only a moral imperative, it is in the fundamental interest of the international community as a whole. Moreover, we have many examples that we can bring about profound changes in the lives of the people in these countries even in one generation with strong national will and leadership, combined with robust and comprehensive international support measures in a spirit of mutual accountability. This is how we are looking at these countries, their challenges and opportunities and their global implications.
How do you see the role of the civil society in addressing the problems being faced by the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States?
Over the years, the scope and complexity of the global partnership for development has changed. Current trends in development have opened up new opportunities for the participation of a wider array of actors at national, regional and global levels. Civil Society Organizations are now considered as an important development partner of LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS recognizing their evolving nature and growing influence and role on development. Increasingly, most governments accept civil society actors not only as essential programme partners but also as policy interlocutors, and see civic participation as critical to building constituencies and consensus, and to promoting inclusion and representation of the poor and marginalized segment of a society. The Istanbul Programme of Action recognizes that “civil society complements government and the private sector in its implementation. Civil society organizations will be involved in policy dialogue, as appropriate, to ensure a participatory and inclusive development process in least developed countries”.
Experience suggests that the success of development and participatory governance depends on both a robust facilitatory state and a vibrant civil society with healthy levels of civic engagement. In articulating this strategy, OHRLLS underscores its conviction that a dynamic relationship between state and civil society can set the terms for an improved quality of governance which can make important contribution to sustained economic growth and sustainable development.
You were closely involved in the 2010 Millennium Development Goals mid-term review process and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. How do you see the prospect of replacing the MDGs with Sustainable Development Goals, and will these be enough to address the problems of millions of people left behind by the forces of globalisation?
The MDGs and Rio+20 have successfully focused our attention on the most critical development problems that our contemporary global society faces. Such a focus is essential to inspire and mobilize global and national actions to rapidly address these issues. Thus, MDGs have helped formulation and implementation of effective collaborative action in fighting poverty, saving lives and promoting education around the world and ensuring gender empowerment and their mainstreaming into development processes. Not all MDGs have been met everywhere, which is the reason for looking at the next generation of development goals that will lead to strengthen new forms of collaboration to complete the unfinished agenda and help those left behind and at the same time to cope with the new and emerging issues that are threatening our common future. The new global partnership needs to prioritize these most vulnerable groups of countries with a view to supporting them in their efforts to leave their poverty traps on a sustainable basis with strong, inclusive and sustainable growth. It also needs to ensure sustainable use of our natural resources to protect the future of the posterity and build resilience for long-term sustainable development in the broadest sense.
We are all working on the twin tracks of post 2015 development agenda and the SDGs. We are trying to support these processes along four pillars namely social-human development, economic growth-productive capacity, environment-climate change, and finally, international development partnership. Such a comprehensive approach can contribute to effectively addressing the challenges of millions of people left behind by the forces of globalization. In doing these, we are working closely with the Member States, UN system organizations, private sector, civil society and the academia.
From international trade to climate change, the UN process seems to have got stuck in between, thereby failing to ensure justice to the poor and developing countries? What do you think should be done to correct such a scenario?
Early conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations under WTO and the climate change negotiations under UNFCCC are vitally important for all countries, especially for the most vulnerable countries namely LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS as they are the major stakeholders in terms of both challenges and opportunities that the climate change presents and the trade offers.
However, we understand how complex these two processes are as they relate to protecting the national interests of all countries, which are often conflicting. But it is important that all the countries rise to the occasion and also look at the global challenge as their own challenges. There is no dichotomy between “my challenge” and “others challenge” anymore. These issues are intertwined and have become a common challenge to all.
It is not surprising that such negotiations always take time to reach consensus with a view to ensuring that a best possible deal is sealed in the end. That the previous trade rounds under the GATT were also spread over many years testifies to the difficulties in arriving at agreements containing binding obligations. But given the new time that we are in and the ever growing and multifarious challenges that we face, there is a need to break the current deadlock soonest and speed up the early conclusion of the Doha round, which also ensures development dividend to the most vulnerable countries.
Considering the importance of the issues as well as complexities in their resolution, many development practitioners are of the view that special focus should be given on areas where progress can be achieved in reaching agreement, pending the final agreement on the whole package, as an early harvests for LDCs and SIDS as well as on trade facilitation. The decisions undertaken at the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Geneva from 15 – 17 December 2011 concerning the LDC accession, extension of the LDC transition period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement, and LDCs services waiver are some cases in point. But there is no substitute for an equitable, ambitious and development oriented outcome of the Doha Round. We hope that the next WTO Ministerial meeting would keep in focus the fundamental need for concluding this round of trade negotiations in order to keep the momentum for an inclusive, sustainable global growth and development.
On climate change issues, what the global community is looking for is a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement by 2015. The world is at a tipping point and vulnerable countries are most disproportionately affected by the climate change. Extreme weather events, desertification, glacier melting, coastal erosion and sea level rise are no longer only possibilities, they are already a reality, threatening livelihood of many people in these vulnerable countries. The loss and damage from the climate change is taking away development gains so painstakingly arrived at. Mitigation and adaption measures have to be much ambitious than what is on the table, as all the reports indicate that the window of opportunity is fast closing. Adaptation is development for the vulnerable countries. A firm commitment on the sustainable funding mechanism and technology support for these vulnerable countries is needed to ensure sufficient and predictable flow of resources to address their adaptation and mitigation needs. International community should summon all their efforts towards arriving at an agreement with visionary goals by 2015. It cannot be postponed any longer, as the ramifications are going to be even greater and could be catastrophic for all in the long term.
What differences do you visualise between the problems being faced by LDCs in Africa and those in Asia? How could those problems be addressed?
As I said before, countries even within LDCs group have specific development challenges. The degree may be different and particular structure may be diverse. However what binds them all together is that they all have a high level of poverty and low level of human development, structural economic deficiencies and vulnerability to external shocks. We see that some LDCs in Asia and Africa have succeeded in speeding up their economies and benefitting from the pull factor generated by the fast growing emerging economies. On the other hand, some LDCs dependent on commodity sector have been doing well in recent years, thus lifting their economic performance. Many LDCs in both the regions have benefitted from the remittances sent by their expatriate nationals. Thus LDCs in both the regions will have to build on their respective strengths to address the two common challenges they face, namely wide-spread extreme poverty and vulnerability. In doing so, their own actions must be supported by strong and effective international development cooperation. This mutual commitment is the essence of the IPoA.
People in LDCs sometimes feel that the West has failed them. How do you think the emerging economies will be able to help LDCs?
I would not like to see South-South Cooperation for LDCs as a substitute for traditional donor countries support to LDCs. We must also closely look at the contributions that the traditional donors have made to LDCs by providing ODA, debt relief and preferential trade measures like DFQF treatment. These actions have complemented LDCs own national efforts to fight poverty, diversify economic base and improve social conditions. While it is also a fact that there has been progress in reducing the general poverty level and promoting human development even in LDCs, there is a need to work vigorously and coherently to eradicate extreme poverty. This remains a big challenge for all. The continued support by the development partners must underpin effective implementation of the IPoA.
Equally important for LDCs is the support from the countries of the South. This is a new development landscape, which is very encouraging. The 1990s and 2000s have seen major economic change in the rise of the global South with countries like China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa among others, emerging as manufacturing, services and agricultural powerhouses globally and spawning regional and global TNCs. In recent years, South-South and triangular cooperation has emerged and expanded significantly as an important development in the world economic landscape.
The IPoA correctly identifies solidarity with LDCs as the guiding spirit of South-South cooperation. We in the UN are working closely with both the traditional donors and the countries in the South in order to realize their full potentials in all areas of development of LDCs, including trade, investment, economic and technological cooperation. The challenges and opportunities of LDCs are so many that we need to ensure that there is coherent support, cooperation and partnership among all the countries around the world in their favour. Given the multifaceted challenges of LDCs, they need support from the traditional as well as emerging economies, as each group of countries has particular strength, which would prove indispensable to LDCs to overcome their constraints and to seize the opportunities in today’s interdependent and globalised world.