Time to unlock the creative potential of least developed countries

09 March 2023

Creative industries can play a critical role in building more resilient, sustainable and inclusive economies in the world’s most vulnerable countries.

© Storm Is Me/Shutterstock | Folk dancers perform the Harvest Dance in traditional costumes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The fifth UN conference on least developed countries (LDCs), taking place in Doha, Qatar from 5 to 9 March, is an opportunity to emphasize how creative industries can offer these countries opportunities to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy.

The Doha Programme of Action, which outlines a roadmap for accelerating economic development in LDCs in the next decade, recognizes the untapped potential of these countries’ creative industries.

It acknowledges their potential to “create full and productive employment and decent work, support entrepreneurship and innovation, encourage the formalization and growth of micro -, small and medium-sized enterprises, promote social inclusion and eradicate poverty.”

It also highlights the potential of the cultural and creative sector to enhance LDCs’ participation in and benefit from new opportunities for sustainable growth in world trade.

Trade patterns in creative goods and services in LDCs

While the creative economy can provide a feasible option for sustainable development and structural transformation, only a few Asian and African LDCs register significant trade in creative goods and services.

Some countries have seen increasing export revenues from creative industries in recent decades. In 2020, LDCs’ creative goods exports and imports reached $1.8 billion and $4.1 billion respectively. Cambodia and Myanmar stand out in the trade of creative goods, accounting for over two thirds of LDCs’ total creative goods exports and half of the imports.

Although creative goods exports were increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic, LDCs remain net importers of these goods. They mainly export creative goods to developed economies, especially the United States, while importing from developing economies like China and Viet Nam.

The primary exported creative goods are design goods (fashion and interior design), while the most imported creative goods are art crafts (yarn).

Trade in creative services by LDCs is marginal compared to global creative services trade. In 2019, creative services exports by LDCs, where such data is available, amounted to $403 million, while creative services imports reached $803 million.

UNCTAD’s efforts to foster the creative economy in LDCs

UNCTAD has been working closely with LDCs to help them harness the power of their creative industries, by providing insights into the global creative economy through its policy-oriented research, creative economy trade profiles, case studies, consensus building and technical cooperation.

For example, UNCTAD supports Angola in creating a conducive environment for the growth of creative industries, fostering job creation and entrepreneurship, and improving the competitiveness of local creative products.

As part of the project, UNCTAD has prepared a mapping report on Angola’s cultural and creative industries and organized several capacity-building workshops.

The next activity, scheduled for 9 March, is an online workshop on strengthening the “Creative Angola” brand to support marketing cultural and creative products in domestic and foreign markets.

These activities are part of the EU-UNCTAD joint programme for Angola: Train for Trade II, financed by the European Union. But the methodology and activities could be replicated in other LDCs in the future.