UN recognition of the least developed countries

47 countries are currently designated by the United Nations as "Least Developed Countries" (LDCs).

The list of LDCs is reviewed every three years by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, in the light of recommendations by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

The following three criteria are used by the CDP to determine LDC status:

  • Per capita income (gross national income per capita)

  • Human assets (indicators of nutrition, health, school enrolment and literacy)

  • Economic vulnerability (indicators of natural and trade-related shocks, physical and economic exposure to shocks, and smallness and remoteness).


By periodically identifying LDCs and highlighting their structural problems, the United Nations gives a strong signal to the international community to the need of special concessions in support of LDCs.

Concessions associated with LDC status include benefits in the areas of:

  • Development financing, notably grants and loans from donors and financial institutions.

  • Multilateral trading system, such as preferential market access and special treatments.

  • Technical assistance, notably, toward trade mainstreaming (Enhanced Integrated Framework)


Five countries have so far graduated from LDC status: Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007, Maldives in 2011, Samoa in January 2014, and Equatorial Guinea in June 2017.

UNCTAD extends to all graduating countries a range of services aimed at supporting their progress toward graduation from LDC status. These include preparing vulnerability profiles of countries with the challenges of graduation, supporting them in their preparation for a smooth transition to post-LDC life.

UNCTAD also assists ex-LDC in their quest for continued socio-economic progress, notably, toward enhanced economic specialization