World leaders have reaffirmed commitment to helping advance the world’s 32 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) through a political declaration adopted by an ongoing UN meeting addressing these nations special needs and challenges.

The Political Declaration of the High-level Midterm Review on the Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action (VPOA) for LLDCs for the Decade 2014-2024 was adopted Thursday at the General Assembly plenary meeting.

By the political declaration’s terms, the heads of state and government, ministers and high representatives, reaffirmed their commitment to the full, effective and timely implementation of the VPOA.

They also proposed durable, transparent, accountable and effective partnerships between LLDCs, transit countries and their development partners.

In November 2014, the 2nd UN Conference on LLDCs held in Vienna adopted the VPOA, which aims to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty for LLDCs and ensure the integration of LLDCs into the global economy.

In Thursday’s declaration, world leaders noted that, since 2014, many LLDCs have placed structural economic transformation at the centre of national development plans.

They have “adopted strategies for diversification and upgrading of their economies, industrialisation, export promotion and private sector development,” the declaration recognised.

However, it said, these countries have made limited progress towards achieving structural transformation, with limited manufacturing and industrial capacity to create high-value-added products, and the economies of some landlocked developing countries even show signs of de-industrialisation.

Leaders observed that LLDCs and transit countries should consider promoting a corridor approach to improving trade and transit transport, calling upon these countries to reduce travel time along the corridors, promote regional connectivity and maximise associated economic opportunities.

They also urged these countries to develop regionally integrated, sustainable, climate and disaster resilient transport infrastructure.

Further, they called upon development partners and multilateral development banks to support landlocked developing countries in strengthening trade financing.

Leaders encouraged landlocked developing countries to continue making improvements in the regulatory environment for business, in particular for micro, small and medium sized enterprises.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in his opening remarks to the meeting, said that in adopting the declaration, states must help turn LLDCs into land-linked places of prosperity and opportunity.

“We need the right policy mix, increased investment, reliable transit infrastructure, efficient customs operations and improved access and use of technology,” he said.

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said LLDCs are “at risk of being left behind.”

Noting that one third of their populations live in extreme poverty, he said “many of these nations continue to struggle in the shadows of historical injustices.”

Also addressing the meeting was Kinga Singye, Foreign Secretary of Bhutan, whose delegation co-facilitated the political declaration’s negotiations.

He reported that Bhutan has made significant progress, and if all goes well, it will be the first landlocked developing state to graduate from the least developed country category in 2023.

He said Bhutan’s development priorities have evolved from building basic infrastructure to investing in services and boosting the economy; over the last 10 years, its GDP has more than tripled, with per capita income doubling.

However, Paraguay’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of LLDCs, pointed out that during the first five years of the VPOA, the annual GDP of LLDCs has shrunk and their human development indices have remained below the global average.

Nevertheless, the delegate said, some progress has been made including in health, education, gender equality, and access to potable water and information and communications technology.

These countries have strengthened regional integration and more have ratified the World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement and other regional and international transport and transit instruments, he added.

At the meeting, many delegates highlighted regional initiatives aimed at aiding LLDCs.

Wu Haitao, China’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, said the world needs to take actions to build a global partnership of inter-connectivity.

He also called upon the international community to jointly build an open world economy, stressing the need to defend multilateralism, oppose unilateralism and protectionism.

He further placed emphasis on maintaining the world’s multilateral trade system, implementing the trade facilitation agreements, and helping LLDCs better integrate into the world trade system.

Wu reported that China’s Belt & Road Initiative will continue to support LLDCs’ efforts in infrastructure, trade, digital industry and energy.

Pakistan’s delegate, noting that his country has joined the initiative, said it promotes transnational connectivity and facilitates cooperation.

The China-Pakistan economic corridor is a central part of that network and is the fastest and most effective among all projects in the initiative, he said, adding that these activities are expected to improve the lives of an estimated 3 billion people in the region.

Kazakhstan’s representative reported that it has built more than 2,500 kilometres of railroad, reconstructed 12,000 kilometres of highways, opened the Western Europe-Western China automobile transit corridor, built the Khorgos Gateway dry port on the border with China and modernised the Aktau port on the Caspian Sea.

Currently, Kazakhstan’s 11 international transit corridors let goods move from Europe to Asia much faster than by sea and more cheaply than by air transport, he said.

According to the UN, among the world’s 32 LLDCs with a total population of more than 500 million, 17 are least developed countries.

LLDCs face an array of challenges mainly associated with their lack of direct territorial access to the sea and remoteness from world markets.

Due to low trade integration, LLDCs account for less than 1 percent of global exports, and more than 80 percent of their exports are primary commodities and natural resources.

Foreign direct investment, which is often a critical driver for building competitiveness, has continued to decline for LLDCs.

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