Statement of Bangladesh at the High-Level Segment of the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD: Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures in the least developed countries, Preparatory meeting on the road to UNCTAD 15 and LDC5, 21 June 2021


Hon’ble Minister,

Ambassador Bob Rae,

DSG Amina Mohammed,

Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD,

WTO, Chief of Staff,

CDP Chair,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank UNCTAD for inviting me and for this opportunity to share a few thoughts, and share this panel with distinguished speakers. I am happy to see Ambassador Bob Rae, my fellow Co-Chair of the LDC 5 PrepCom, also on the panel. I am sure, he will fill in most eloquently any points that I may miss out.

Today’s meeting is very timely. I appreciate its focus on extraordinary measures to help LDCs tackle the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we are preparing for both LDC5 and UNCTAD 15 Conferences, it should be our collective responsibility to develop a new global action agenda that should not only help LDCs build back better, but also accelerate their implementation of  the 2030 Agenda in a sustainable and resilient manner.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up global socioeconomic structures. The LDCs are bearing the heaviest brunt of this crisis due to lack of access to vaccines, weak fiscal and healthcare facilities, and poor socio-economic resilience. Their decades of socio-economic gains are in rapid fall. Extreme poverty in LDCs has increased by 3 percentage points, which pushed 32 million more people to abject poverty. Average growth in LDCs dropped from 4.8% in 2019 to 1.3% in 2020. The future seems bleaker than ever before.

Against this backdrop, the next Programme of Action for the decade 2022-2031 is expected to come up with a new generation of renewed and strengthened commitments. It should be grounded on the overarching goals of achieving rapid recovery from the pandemic and building resilience against future shocks. We must have ambitious targets for eradicating extreme poverty, enabling sustainable and irreversible graduation from the LDC category, utilizing trade as an engine of growth, leveraging the power of science, technology, and innovation, addressing the impacts of climate change, and ensuring structural transformation and productive capacity building. We need a reinvigorated global partnership and the widest possible multi-stakeholder coalition to support the LDCs. The POA and its targets must be supported by adequate and scaled up means of implementation.

We have seen strong political commitment and renewed support for a bold and ambitious Programme of Action to advance these issues in the first Preparatory Committee meeting in May. We also had a very successful joint meeting of the General Assembly and ECOSOC last Friday. My own country along with Canada and UN-OHRLLS organized a high-level event last week on building resilience for sustainable and irreversible graduation. A lot of new ideas and innovative solutions came up during these meetings. These events, along with other preparatory meetings and analytical works have formed a very strong and solid basis for an ambitious outcome of the LDC5. I am here today with the firm belief that today’s meeting will also help to identify some bold deliverables for the LDC5 outcome document.

Let me share some specific thoughts in this regard:

First, we believe that global efforts must now focus on fast and sustainable recovery from the pandemic; and ensuring vaccination is key to achieve that.  We must vaccinate the world as early as possible through enhanced global manufacturing capacity of vaccines. At this moment, only 0.8% of people living in LDCs and other low-income countries have received a vaccine, compared to 21% people globally. We must ensure that at least 50 percent of the population in LDCs is vaccinated by the end of 2021 and all by the first half of 2022 – although at this point of time, that appears to be a far cry. Universal vaccination for COVID-19 will cost about $50 billion. This is just 0.25 per cent of the total global stimulus package of $20 trillion introduced so far, mostly by advanced countries.

We appreciate the recent declaration of the G-7 countries to donate 1 billion doses of vaccines to low-income countries. The most effective solution of this issue, however, will be to utilize TRIPs waiver to transfer technology and know-hows to LDCs that have production capacities for vaccines.

Second, the LDCs’ exports of goods and commercial services have seen a drastic fall due to the pandemic. It went down from US$236 billion in 2019 to 211 billion in 2020. Lack of diversification and high dependence on commodity price are the primary reasons that make the export of LDCs extremely vulnerable to external shocks. In 2020, commodity price declined by 30 per cent and trade in services on tourism was completely devastated. The LDCs were the hardest hit.

To reverse this situation, we need bold actions to promote export diversification in LDCs with a firm commitment to DFQF market access to OECD markets. It is imperative to realize the SDGs target of 17.12 on DFQF for LDCs with immediate effect. The long-drawn out policy paradox where rich countries provide aid to promote development but restricts trade should end. ISMs such as aid for trade, trade facilitation for LDCs must scale up. It is also imperative to extend LDC-specific support and flexibilities under WTO for at least 12 years for graduated countries.

LDCs also need enhanced support to build necessary infrastructure and digital eco-system to reap the maximum benefits from e-commerce, which has grown significantly amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Third, the pandemic is a reminder that investments in STI and productive capacities are necessary to build resilience against crises. The LDCs need robust research infrastructure, sufficient funding, and incentives to ensure a conducive environment where STI can flourish; and to bridge stark digital and technological divides.

The education infrastructure of LDCs should be a priority focus now. While most of the developed countries could quickly adapt to digital education, millions of students in the LDCs have gone out of school due to lack of digital infrastructure. They need support for enhanced investment in further digitalization of their educational infrastructure to ensure education and skills development of their youth.

Fourth, structural transformation through productive capacity building and value addition in agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors are pivotal to recover from the pandemic and build resilience against shocks.

Many LDCs are also climate vulnerable. They need scaled up financing and technology support to help the transition towards climate-resilient growth.

The pathway towards structural transformation and climate resilient growth would require massive investment in infrastructure and harnessing all sources of financing. We must tap into the opportunities of innovative financing, PPP partnership, South-South cooperation to advance this agenda along with traditional ODA led development partnership.

Fifth, economic, social, and moral impulses of the migrants made remittances a vibrant source of external finance for LDCs even during this crisis. Immense untapped potentials remain in this field. We need to foster orderly migration, protect migrants’ rights and ensure decent jobs, reduce the transaction costs and make productive use of remittances to harness the fullest potentials of migration and remittances.

Finally, graduation from the LDC category is an emerging topic in the global development discourse as 16 countries are now on graduation track. We need an incentives-based support structure to make graduation sustainable and irreversible.

Excellencies, Colleagues,

We consider UNCTAD as an important partner and deeply value its research and analytical works. We will continue to count on UNCTAD’s engagement and collaboration on the road to Doha22.

I thank you all for your kind attention and for this opportunity to share my thoughts.