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Boosting production, crucial for LDCs, post pandemic

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The world’s poorest countries will remain on the margins of the global economy if States are unable to boost economic production, and the international community fails to provide more support, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned.

Their ability to respond to and recover from crises such as COVID-19, and to advance towards sustainable development, is dependent on increasing production capacities, UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2021, released on Monday notes, calling specifically for increased investment in State and productive capacities for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) grouping.

“Today LDCs find themselves at a critical juncture,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. “They need decisive support from the international community to develop their productive capacities and institutional capabilities to face traditional and new challenges.”

Massive investment required

UNCTAD defines productive capacities as “the productive resources, entrepreneurial capabilities and production linkages that together determine the capacity of a country to produce goods and services and enable it to grow and develop.”

Developing production allows the world’s LDCs to foster structural economic transformation, which will in turn help reduce poverty and accelerate progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report warns that reaching SDGs will require massive investment and spending, which go well beyond LDCs’ own financial means.

50 year struggle

The UN established the LDC category 50 years ago. The grouping of the world’s weakest economies has expanded from an initial 25 countries in 1971, peaking at 52 in 1991, and stands at 46 today, with only six countries progressing enough to no longer be considered an LDC.

Over the last two decades, only a handful of LDCs have displayed encouraging signs of structural transformation and meaningful productivity improvements, the report said.

Grim outlook

LCDs recorded the worst growth performance in about three decades during 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted their institutional, economic and social shortcomings, the report highlights.

LDCs’ limited resilience is reflected in their low COVID-19 vaccination rates, as only 2% of their population have managed to get shots, compared with 41% in developed countries.

Ms. Grynspan urged LDCs’ development partners to consider the special needs of the more than one billion living in these countries during UNCTAD’s upcoming conference in October, under the theme, From inequality and vulnerability, to prosperity for all.

Daunting financing needs

The UNCTAD report describes LDCs’ financing needs as ‘daunting’, especially in relation to structural transformation targets.

For example, the report estimated that the average annual investment required to reach the 7 per cent growth target (SDG 8.1) is around $462 billion, while the average annual investment requirements to end extreme poverty (SDG 1.1) in LDCs, is estimated at $485 billion.

The average annual investment required to double the share of manufacturing in GDP (SDG 9.2) is estimated at over $1 trillion. 

To generate sufficient development finance, LDCs will need to strengthen their fiscal capacities, increase domestic resource mobilization and improve the effectiveness of public expenditures, the report said but warned even this will not be enough.

“The international community has an essential role to play in supporting LDCs in their efforts to mobilize adequate financing for their sustainable development needs,” the report said. 

Investment

According to UNCTAD’s analysis, most LDCs will need three to five or more years, to recover the level of GDP per capita they had in 2019.

Domestic efforts to recover need to be supported by a new generation of international support measures that are more closely aligned to LDCs’ needs and 21st-century realities, Paul Akiwumi, director of UNCTAD’s division for Africa and least developed countries said.

“A purposeful industrial policy should be at the core of LDCs’ pursuit of green growth and structural transformation because these countries need to urgently diversify from their overdependence on primary commodities.”

Mr. Akiwumi added that increasing investment in state capacity and productive capacities must be at the heart of the next programme of action for these countries for the decade 2022 to 2031, to be adopted at the Fifth UN Conference on LDCs in January 2022.

He also urged LDC governments to adapt programmes negotiated at the international level to their unique national conditions and to resolve trade-offs when formulating their national developments plans.

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Development

Vaccination, Jobs, and Social Assistance are All Key to Reducing Poverty in Central Asia

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As the pace of economic recovery picks up, countries in Central Asia have an opportunity to return to pre-pandemic levels of poverty reduction – if they put in place the right policies. This was the overall message shared by World Bank economists today at a regional online event “Overcoming the Pandemic and Ending Poverty in Central Asia”.

In the early 2000s, Central Asian countries were among the world’s best performers in poverty reduction. Starting in 2009, however, the pace of progress began to slow and even stagnated in some of the countries. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted a region already struggling to generate inclusive growth and end extreme poverty. Now in the second year of the pandemic, poverty rates in Central Asia are falling again, but with high inflation and low vaccination rates, the poor and the most vulnerable continue to suffer from food insecurity, uncertainty, and limited employment opportunities, especially for women.

“Central Asia is recovering from the first shocks of the pandemic, albeit in uneven ways,” said Will Seitz, World Bank Senior Economist in Central Asia. “Migration and remittances, key drivers of poverty reduction in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are quickly returning to 2019 levels. Labor markets are also recovering, and work disruptions are much less common. However, the region is yet to get on a stable poverty reduction path.”

Among policy priorities to reduce poverty, the World Bank is focused on three key areas: widespread vaccination, increasing employment and wages, and strengthening social assistance programs to support the most vulnerable. To support labor market recovery, the World Bank economists outlined short-term and medium-term measures, including the need to invest in green jobs and encouraging the creation and growth of firms.

It was also stressed that employment alone will not address all drivers of poverty, and strong safety nets are essential to protect the most vulnerable. Compared with other middle-income countries, Central Asian governments typically provide smaller shares of their populations with social assistance.

“Along with ensuring fair, broad access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, Central Asian countries need to urgently address vaccination hesitancy, as it threatens to slow down the recovery,” said Tatiana Proskuryakova, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia. “For every million people vaccinated, global GDP recovers on average nearly $8 billion. We are expecting advanced economies with relatively high vaccination rates to demonstrate much better growth rates than developing economies with low vaccination rates.”

Among the main reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in Central Asian countries are worries about vaccine contraindication and safety. While people with pre-existing health conditions in other countries are usually prioritized for vaccination, in the Central Asia region they are more likely to be hesitant to get vaccinated. Providing the public with accurate information on the safety of vaccines and encouraging people with pre-existing health conditions to be vaccinated may help address hesitancy issues.

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Vietnam’s Development Agenda Receives Additional Boost

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Vietnam’s push to enhance competitiveness, reduce its carbon footprint, and improve lives and livelihoods has been given a boost with the approval of an AUD 5 million grant by the Australian Government.

This grant represents additional funding to the ongoing Australia – Bank Partnership in Vietnam (ABP), which focuses on a wide range of policy areas designed to support the country’s development agenda.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on Vietnam’s reform agenda and exacerbate inequalities, which are more pronounced and harder to close for ethnic minorities, for women and for other marginalized groups. Responding to this, Australia’s extended collaboration with the World Bank will continue to support Vietnam’s quick economic recovery and help achieve its development goals,” said Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam HE Robyn Mudie.

The ABP will continue its work on gender equality and the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta. In addition, it will also help address new priorities set out in the country’s recently adopted Socio-Economic Development Strategy and Socio-Economic Development Plan, including the transition to a low carbon economy, social equity and inclusion, and innovation-driven growth.

“The ABP will continue providing high-quality advisory work, enabling Vietnamese policymakers to pursue substantive reforms,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “These reforms are needed both for recovery from the economic costs of COVID, but also to set a solid basis for the pathway to higher income status.”

The ABP was established in 2017 with an initial funding amount of AUD 25 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABP responded quickly and provided an additional AUD 5 million to support Vietnam to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic. The program leverages expertise from Australia and the World Bank Group to support the Government of Vietnam in strengthening its development policies and programs.

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Cotton sustains more than 100 million families worldwide

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Women workers clean cotton in Multan city in Pakistan. © FAO/Aamir Qureshi

A single metric tonne of cotton provides jobs for five people on average, often in some of the world’s most impoverished regions; that adds up around 100 million families across the globe. 

To recognize these and other contributions, the United Nations is marking World Cotton Day, this Thursday. 

Cotton is an important means of livelihood for millions of smallholders and attracts export revenues to some of the poorest countries. This makes the sector a key contributor to reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

For the UN, this natural fabric “represents so much more than just a commodity”, it is “a life-changing product.” 

Important source 

Cotton is a major source of income for many rural laborers, including women. With this World Day, the UN wants to raise awareness of the critical role that cotton plays in economic development, international trade and poverty alleviation. 

The initiative also wants to highlight the importance of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. 

Resilient and multipurpose 

As a crop resistant to climatic changes, cotton can be planted in dry and arid zones. It occupies just 2.1 per cent of the world’s arable land, but it meets 27 per cent of the world’s textile needs. 

Around 80 per cent of cotton is used in the clothing industry, 15 per cent in home furnishings and the remaining 5 per cent mostly accounts for non-woven applications, such as filters and padding. 

Almost nothing from cotton is wasted. In addition to textiles and apparel, food products can be derived from it, such as edible oil and animal feed from the seed. 

Other uses have been developed recently, like using cotton-based filaments in 3D printers, because they conduct heat well, become stronger when wet, and are more scalable than materials like wood. 

The ‘Cotton Four’ 

The idea for the World Day was born in 2019, when four cotton producers in sub-Saharan Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, known as the Cotton Four -proposed a celebration on October 7, to the World Trade Organization

With the UN officially recognizing the date, it became an opportunity to create awareness of the need of market access from least developed countries, to foster sustainable trade policies and to enable developing countries to benefit more from every step of the value chain. 

For years, UN agencies have worked towards this goal. 

For instance, since 2003, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organization have helped the Cotton Four to improve production local processing capacity, as well as to discuss the trade reforms needed to address high trade barriers.  

Another UN agency, FAO, has long offered developing countries technical and policy support. One example is the +Cotton project, a cooperation initiative with Brazil that helps Latin American producers with innovative farming methods.

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