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‘LDCs actions must be supported by strong and effective international development cooperation’: USG Acharya

In August 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Gyan Chandra Acharya as Under-Secretary-General (USG) and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. A former Foreign Secretary and Nepal, Acharya has 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:

After nearly two years of the conclusion of the UN LDC IV in Istanbul, how do you see the progress so far towards fulfilling the commitments made during the conference?

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 Millennium Development Goals (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 the Overseas Development Assistance (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 you are 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.

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.

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.

(Full version of this interview is available in www.ldcnews.com - Editor)

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