Enhancing the support to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

This was the message that emerged from the Mid-term Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) which was held in Antalya at the end of May and at which FERDI was an active participant on the basis of its recent work.

The review provided an opportunity to take stock of the international community's actions for LDCs, although numerous challenges remain.

It is part of a movement to promote the theme of vulnerability, a term increasingly referenced by development organisations over recent years, as demonstrated in particular by UNDP choosing it as the subject of its Human Development Report in 2014. FERDI can only welcome this, the theme having already been addressed by the Foundation for many years. 

It is not therefore surprising that we have seen renewed interest in LDCs over the past two years in declarations from major international conferences on development (Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development in July 2015, UN General Assembly in September 2015, COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, etc.). This was after references had all but disappeared in the declarations from previous major conferences, despite the ambitious IPoA having been adopted in 2011.

What can we learn from the Antalya Conference?

On a political level, the review carried out last month, five years after the Istanbul summit, aimed not just to provide a mid-term review of the IPoA but also to extend the focus on LDCs. The "outsourcing" to Turkey (which had already hosted the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries) of a "simple" mid-term review, a type of exercise usually carried out in New York, demonstrates the wish of the UN to highlight the challenges for LDCs in its members' agenda.

Although it was noted that no heads of state or government from donor or emerging countries attended, we should not be surprised or disappointed by this, given that the nature of a mid-term review is more technical than political. In addition, the timetable for international meetings did not work in our favour, with the annual meeting of the African Development Bank being held in Lusaka at the same time and the first World Humanitarian Summit being held in Istanbul four days earlier.

On a more technical level, the graduation of LDCs was the main topic in the debates held as part of this review. The word "graduation" seems to have become a new synonym for "development". The goal set for 2020, that at least half of LDCs will meet the criteria for graduation, seems unrealistic given the estimate that economic growth of 7% per year will be needed to achieve this goal. In reality, most LDCs remain well below this level and the World Bank forecasts for 2016 are a decline in average growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Antalya Conference was an opportunity for participants to present a series of initiatives for LDCs and to discuss their effectiveness. This is the subject of a forthcoming publication from FERDI, edited by Patrick Guillaumont, the key messages from which were shared at one of the three workshops co-run by FERDI in Antalya. The other two discussed how vulnerabilities can be addressed through financing development, and how implementation of the IPoA can be assessed.

The series of initiatives presented in Antalya clearly form a valuable selection on which pro-LDC policies must be modelled in order to achieve their objectives. However, there is a certain vagueness about the international community's global strategy for LDCs, a mechanism-based approach often seeming to be prioritised over structured and coordinated specific action by the actors involved.

There is an awkward dichotomy between the need for and the availability of concessional resources, often side-stepped through the obvious assertion that not everything can be funded by aid. Although no-one can deny this reality, it is also undeniable that many of the vulnerabilities of LDCs need to be addressed through strong support from the international community. The final declaration from the Antalya Conference does not mention any specific progress on this front.

Is the soufflé going to sink?

Although it was not directly discussed in Antalya, the issue of the future of the LDC categorization was raised. Obviously the ambition is that all LDCs graduate to an acceptable level of development and that the category therefore ultimately disappears. Although this is an entirely laudable ambition, it does not make the task any less enormous. Moreover, we cannot ignore the considerable advantage of having a category recognised by all international institutions and identified as a priority target for support from the community, due to the poverty and vulnerabilities characteristic of LDCs.

Will political momentum be favourable to LDCs in the future? Everything will certainly depend on the willingness to implement the IPoA, but also on follow-up to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development adopted last July, which included multiple mentions of "vulnerabilities".

It is however interesting to note that no specific attention was paid to the issue of LDCs at theEuropean Development Days (EDD 2016) held in Brussels two weeks after the Antalya Conference (the workshop run by FERDI at the EDD being the only one specifically devoted to LDCs).The subjects addressed focussed more on themes than on categories, apart from some debates about fragile states and ACP countries - a European Commission obligation. Although the theme of vulnerabilities was underlying in many workshops, it was not really highlighted at this event except in terms of its political aspect, which was repeatedly discussed.

These annual meetings are an opportunity to check the pulse of development policies. The next Convergences World Forum in September will be another opportunity to review the interest in vulnerable countries shown by the development community.