Amid unprecedented global prosperity, the world’s poor were more vulnerable now than ever

Amid unprecedented global prosperity, the world’s poor were more vulnerable now than ever, participants in the high-level debate of the 2004 session of the Economic and Social Council were told today.

The 43 speakers in two meetings today -- on resources mobilization and an enabling environment for poverty eradication -- recognized that the primary responsibility for development in the least developed countries (LDCs) rested with those nations themselves. At the same time, several speakers, themselves on the list of 50 poorest countries, pressed for more concrete and substantial international support of their endeavours to help loosen the grip of grinding poverty and underdevelopment.

Bangladesh’s representative expressed the fervent hope that the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, known as the Brussels Programme, would not meet the same fate as the two related programmes that had preceded it. Bangladesh had progressed since Brussels, but the absence of proper administrative, trade and development institutions constrained the initiatives of many least developed nations to improve their lot.

On behalf of the African Group, whose member States comprised the majority of the LDCs, Burkina Faso’s representative called for a levelling of the economic playing field, without which, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to attain the internationally agreed development targets. Since Brussels, African least developed countries had undertaken significant reform of their economic environments, resulting more open trade regimes. Yet, growth had continued to spiral downward. Touching on associated problems of resource deficiency, indebtedness and commodity dependency, he said it was time to adopt a comprehensive, rather than the existing piecemeal, approach to the LDCs.

For the heavily indebted poor countries, Zambia’s representative appealed for a rapid and sustainable exit from the debt crisis. Serious efforts were being made in his country, including a broadening of the tax base, but the successful mobilization of domestic resources went hand-in-hand with economic growth. Zambia had targeted areas of agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and mining as pillars for growth and poverty reduction. When it came to trade, however, LDCs enjoyed some preferential treatment, but they still faced serious constraints.

Norway’s representative urged all countries to increase market access for the LDCs. Supply-side constraints in those countries –- particularly those related to productivity and quality, logistics and infrastructure –- must be redressed, as international trade could not promote poverty reduction if export performance remained weak. There must be “aid for trade”. Meanwhile, Norway’s official development assistance had already exceeded the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP). It was committed to reaching its target of 1 per cent, and in the period from 2005 to 2009, it intended to remain committed to that level “at least”.

Chief Director of the Economic Development of South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the plight of the least developed countries did not seem to be lessening, in part because the measures that had been taken had not always achieved the desired result. He urged extreme caution in using trade liberalization to prop up those nations, citing the example of Zambia, whose formal sector was being wiped out as a result. The ultimate aim was to enable all of those countries to “graduate” to the higher development plane, but uncertainties about the transition had made some reluctant.

Also speaking today was the Foreign Minister of El Salvador, as well as representatives of: Czech Republic; Armenia; Thailand; Iran; Iceland; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Jamaica; Bhutan; Nepal; Kazakhstan; Canada; Colombia; India; Belarus; Malaysia; Sweden; Ethiopia; Libya; Cameroon; Brazil; Mauritius; Kenya; Senegal; and the Republic of Congo.

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