Tenth Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed Countries

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Tenth Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed Countries

UNIDO Headquarters, Vienna
24 November 2023

[Video message]

Your excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

Dear friends,

It is my pleasure to co-organize this 10th Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed Countries alongside our longstanding friend and partner, UNIDO.

Our organizations are united in our belief.

Least Developed Countries are in a desperate situation, marked by a COVID pandemic from which they have yet to recover, a cost-of-living crisis which is hitting them disproportionally, a climate crisis towards which they are completely exposed, and a debt burden that rising interest rates are making increasingly unbearable.

The numbers speak volumes, and they speak with urgency.

Import costs in LDCs for basic food surged by 63 per cent over the last three years, mounting a bill of USD 35 billion in 2022.

Debt service in LDCs soared to USD 27 billion dollars in 2021, a staggering 37 per cent increase from USD 20 billion in the preceding year.

Today, LDCs are not only spending more on debt service than on either health or education – on average, they are spending almost twice as much on debt that on health.

LDCs have seen their GDP per capita plummet, and the 7 per cent GDP growth target is far from being achieved.

LDCs face both the highest burden in per capita terms to meet their energy transition needs, as well as the highest disaster costs if they don’t transition in time.

Out of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change, 17 are LDCs.

Green structural transformation is the only way out of this development trap in Least Developed Countries.

Yet, UNCTAD estimates that LDCs need over USD 1 trillion annually in this decade to double the industry’s contribution to their GDP – a figure triples their total investment in 2021.

Moreover, advancements in IT, AI, renewable energy, and biotech have widened the technological gap between LDCs and rich nations. LDCs are at less than a quarter of the technological level of their developed counterparts in terms of digital tech.

In LDCs only 1 in 3 have access to the internet and 1 in 6 people still live in areas without mobile broadband coverage.

As we tackle these daunting development challenges, international support is indispensable.

Actions at the margins will not solve the issue. Only grants, concessional loans, and a debt relief can take them out of it.

LDCs need massive resources from overseas, and these resources need to be long-run, low-cost, accessible and at scale.

This immediately points to the very architecture of the international financial system.

We need to increase lending by multilateral development banks, regular liquidity injections by the IMF, a multilateral mechanism for external debt resolution, and a substantial increase in official development aid to Least Developed Countries.

At the same time, UNCTAD advocates for specific targets for Least Developed Countries for the upcoming Loss and Damage Fund to facilitate resources for green structural transformation.

We also propose measures to support the transfer of green technologies towards LDCs, building on the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries established in 2018.

Effective policies require solid evidence and precise measurement. To this end, UNCTAD’s Productive Capacities Index offers a powerful tool for policymakers, highlighting gaps and identifying priority areas for policy focus.

Your excellencies,

As we embark on the 10th Ministerial Conference, I am confident that your discussions will illuminate new paths towards green structural transformation – a vital step in implementing the Doha Programme of Action, to which UNCTAD, UNIDO, and the entire United Nations system are wholeheartedly dedicated.

Thank you.

I wish you a very successful ministerial.