A high-level panel discussion on SIDS and the question of graduation from Least Developed Country status, jointly organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP), took place on 2nd September 2014 at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
The panel, which was co-chaired by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, included H.E. Mr. Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, H.E. Mr. José Maria Neves, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, H.E. Mr. Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, H.E. Mr. Joe Natuman, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, H.E. Mr. F. Lauofo, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, and H.E. Mr. Mohamed Shareef, Minister from the Government of Maldives.
Cabo Verde, Maldives and Samoa have already been taken off the UN list of LDCs, and Vanuatu's graduation from LDC status is scheduled to take place in 2017. The potential graduation of Kiribati and Tuvalu will be reviewed by relevant UN bodies in 2015. At present there are 48 LDCs according to the United Nations.
Graduation from LDC status is a United Nations process based on the examination of country performance in light of per capita income, human assets, and economic vulnerability criteria. Since 2011 the United Nations has taken the view that at least half of all LDCs should be able to meet graduation criteria by the end of the 2010 decade.
All panelists underlined the importance for their respective nations of achieving durable economic and social progress. They recognized that leaving behind the Least Developed Countries category was something they and their people looked forward to. LDC graduation should be viewed as a desirable development, even for fragile and vulnerable countries. However, while the quest for durable progress was palpable, there were equally strong views about the necessary conditions, for most SIDS, to achieve such progress.
In summarizing the outcome of the panel discussion, Dr. Kituyi noted the "extraordinary convergence of views", among SIDS leaders. He shared their sentiment that graduation from LDC status will not be a straightforward matter until there is total clarity on what the international community is prepared to do to help graduating SIDS deal with the unique disadvantages they suffer from. The SIDS leaders recognized that they could cease to be LDCs one day, but noted that they will never cease being small island developing States.
The Secretary-General echoed one of the most pressing demands by the panelists, namely, their plea for "SIDS treatment": what international support measures could be envisaged to enable graduating SIDS to lean on alternative concessions once they have lost the benefits associated with LDC status?
An explicit call by panelists was for "a new start" in the UN agenda for SIDS: a plea for "systemic progress" was heard, with a view to enabling the notion of SIDS-specific responses to be brought to fruition. The SIDS leaders generally took the view that the UN system, which already deals with other special categories of countries, should be fully able to support the quest for SIDS treatment. A panelist noted that SIDS weigh nothing in the world economy, and that "extending special treatment to SIDS would cost little to the international community, but it would mean a lot to us."
UNCTAD's principal objective, in support of SIDS' development efforts, has been to help these countries create the best possible conditions for resilience-building through the development of sound productive capacities. This collective vision, Dr. Kituyi noted, was already explicit in the early days of UNCTAD's work for the benefit of SIDS, four decades ago. Today, UNCTAD actively seeks to bring the international community to accept "SIDS status" as a vehicle of special treatment, so that special international answers to SIDS-specific problems are a practically workable option. Clear identification of beneficiaries, and therefore, international acceptance of a list of genuine SIDS, is a prerogative UNCTAD has been voicing since the first UN conference on SIDS in 1994.
Secretary-General Kituyi also recalled UNCTAD's use of a list of 29 genuine SIDS, and underlined a number of areas of SIDS-specific treatment for which a broad consensus could be within reach. Two of these areas that were cited by SIDS leaders during the panel discussion were adaptation to climate change, and trade-related technical assistance.
The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States was also an opportunity, for the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, to present three new publications:
"The Oceans Economy: Opportunities and challenges for SIDS", a joint UNCTAD-Commonwealth publication
"Addressing the vulnerabilities of SIDS more effectively", jointly published by UNCTAD and the Indian Ocean Commission
A stand-alone publication titled: "Closing the distance: partnerships for Sustainable and Resilient Transport Systems in SIDS".
Areas of UNCTAD technical cooperation with SIDS include, inter alia, advisory services to SIDS that are or will be faced with the challenge of graduation from LDC status; support to the development of cultural or creative industries; biotrade and the link between organic agriculture and tourism; and national green export reviews, and sustainable and resilient transport systems.