Commitments are there; what is needed is their implementation. This was a recurrent theme in statements by representatives of the least developed countries (LDCs) at a panel discussion on recent trade and debt initiatives, organized by UNCTAD on 8 October.
The lively discussions focused on the Plan of Action for LDCs which is being drafted within the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the initiative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to alleviate the debt problems of the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs). They took place under the aegis of the current session of the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board. The Board is expected to make recommendations to complement the WTO´s work on LDCs, which is to be presented at the Ministerial Conference in Singapore in early December.
Following are highlights of some of the views expressed by the panellists.
"There is no absence of goodwill for LDCs on the part of the international community, nor is there any dearth of commitments. What is necessary is the translation of these commitments into concrete actions", said Ambassador Anwar Hashim of Bangladesh, Coordinator of the LDCs in Geneva. He called for adequate implementation of the trade and debt initiatives on the basis of shared responsibility and strengthened partnership.
"Least developed countries have demonstrated their willingness to achieve economic growth by adopting structural adjustment reforms over the past decade and a half. It is now the turn of the international community to support their efforts by adopting measures which would complement their policies and yield positive results", said Ambassador Nacer Benjelloun-Touimi of Morocco. In his capacity as Chairman of the Trade and Development Committee of the WTO, he briefed participants on various aspects of the WTO Plan of Action. This is expected to comprise three elements: improve market access conditions; encourage flows of foreign direct investment (FDI); and ensure coordination and cooperation among concerned international organizations in implementing the Plan. Ambassador Benjelloun-Touimi added that a Ministerial Meeting of LDCs will be convened in November in preparation for the Singapore Ministerial Meeting. The WTO will later convene a high-level meeting on collaboration and coordination among the WTO, UNCTAD, the ITC, the World Bank and IMF in the implementation of the Plan of Action for LDCs.
While LDCs saw the WTO Plan of Action as an important instrument in enhancing market access, they felt that in itself it would not guarantee export expansion. This required complementary action aimed at putting in place the necessary human, physical and institutional infrastructure, adequate support to policy reforms, as well as multi-disciplinary and tailor-made technical assistance. They emphasized that such assistance should go beyond seminars and the provision of experts to address the fundamental constraints on their production capacity.
Mr. Grant Taplin, Assistant Director of the IMF, said that the new initiative by the World Bank and the IMF on the debt of the HIPCs was aimed at reducing the external debt burden to sustainable levels, so as to ensure that adjustment and reforms in these countries were not exposed to risks arising from indebtedness. Of the 41 countries identified by the World Bank and the IMF as HIPCs, 29 are also Least Developed Countries. Mr. Taplin added that a country would benefit from this initiative only when it had shown its ability to put to good use the support provided through a good track record of policy performance. The operations may not involve less conditionality for the participating debtor countries. The estimated US$5.5 billion of this initiative will be financed out of the IMF´s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, World Bank funds (US$500 million already identified) and the Paris Club of official creditor nations, which is to provide up to 80 per cent in debt relief.
The panel also addressed the question of scant FDI flows to LDCs, notwithstanding the liberal policies implemented in most of these countries. Several speakers thought a joint effort of the developed countries, more advanced developing countries and international organizations was necessary to encourage FDI to LDCs. However Ambassador Ali Said Mchumo of the United Republic of Tanzania took a different tack, stating: "The problem is not with policies, but with the structural weaknesses in LDCs".
The meeting was chaired by Ambassador Bozorgmehr Ziaran of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chairman of Sessional Committee I of the Board.