Over the past decade, private capital from the industrialized world has increasingly scoured the globe in search of profitable investment homes. Venture capital and portfolio investment funds have thus sought out off-the-beaten-track "emerging markets" in ever-growing numbers. The number of emerging market equity funds exploded from only ten in 1984 to 1,435 last year.
But one group of countries -- those 48 nations categorized by the UN as Least Developed -- has so far largely missed out on this trend. To date, inward investment funds have been set up for only six of them: Bangladesh, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Reversing this situation, by showing potential investors the opportunities for profit in these largely neglected countries and by discussing what the LDC governments can do themselves to improve their investment climate, is the task that UNCTAD has set itself. From 23 to 25 June 1997, UNCTAD, in cooperation with the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), will thus host a first-ever meeting of fund managers, bankers and LDC officials, as well as representatives of other member States, at its Geneva headquarters. Representatives from multilateral institutions, such as the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, will also participate.
The event, which was called for at UNCTAD IX in South Africa last May, represents a novelty for UNCTAD, being neither a traditional intergovernmental meeting nor an expert group called to offer advice to member States.
For three days, private investors, government officials and UN specialists will debate how to come up with practical answers to the investment drought being suffered by these poorest countries, most of whom are in Africa. They will use as a working tool a document prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat (see TD/B/SEM.2) on types of investment vehicles and prospects for, and constraints on, foreign investment in LDCs. Out of the discussions, hopefully, will come proposals to establish new financial mechanisms to channel private flows into the LDCs.
Participants in this "Pilot Seminar on the Mobilization of the Private Sector to Encourage Foreign Investment Flows towards the Least Developed Countries" will hear case studies on investment experiences and opportunities in a number of LDCs, among them Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Togo, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia and Bangladesh.
The meeting will also examine investment opportunities and the feasibility of establishing investment funds in the infrastructure, agro-industry and tourism sectors of LDCs, thanks to studies funded by the Norwegian Government.
Over 90 companies or projects, in eight countries, have tentatively been identified as investment prospects by UNCTAD and UNIDO.
Altogether, approximately one hundred participants are expected; among them, representatives of heavyweight financial institutions such as the Swiss Bank Corporation, Templeton International and Société Générale and venture capital firms such as Foreign and Colonial Emerging Markets, along with private bankers, such as Geneva-based Pictet Bank, and portfolio managers.
The 48 LDCs are: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People´s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zaire and Zambia.