The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) held its Expert Group Meeting on the Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action (VPoA) in North and Central Asia on 7-8 June, with a view to review progress and gaps in achieving specific objectives of the VPoA in the sub-region.
Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) face an array of common challenges in achieving long-term development and prosperity. Due to their geographical location, LLDCs suffer from limited competitiveness due to high trade costs and high dependance on neighbouring transit countries to access regional and international markets. Transport and connectivity challenges are also prevalent as these countries generally face higher administrative and trade costs, longer transit times and more complex border procedures. The climate crisis is also having major impacts on LLDCs with many heavily affected by desertification, biodiversity loss, drought and receding glaciers.
Recognising the complex challenges facing LLDCs, the international community in 2014 adopted the Vienna programme of action for Landlocked Developing Countries. This is a ten-year action-plan aimed at accelerating sustainable development in LLDCs. It consists of a set of six priority areas of interventions: (i) Fundamental Transit Policy Issues; (ii) Infrastructure Development and Maintenance; (iii) International Trade and Trade Facilitation; (iv) Regional Integration and Cooperation, (v) Structural Economic Transformation; and (vi) Means of Implementation. These priority areas are intended as a holistic approach to the peculiar challenges faced by LLDCs that have, over the years, impeded their economic transformation, as well as inclusive and sustainable growth.
“The impacts of multiple interlinked crises due to climate change, COVID-19, geopolitical uncertainties, and global economic slowdown in the subregion have placed greater urgency and importance in addressing the special needs of LLDCs,” said Michiko Enomoto, Acting Head of ESCAP Sub-Regional Office for North and Central Asia “Concerted efforts are needed to ensure we remain focused towards full implementation of the VPoA by 2024.”
These challenges have put LLDCs in a very disadvantageous position for economic development and make them more vulnerable in the case of global disruptions to value chains and cross-border restrictions, negative (or limited) economic growth, and reduction in trade flows. Of the world’s 32 LLDCs, 7 are in North and Central Asia.
The two-day Expert Group Meeting reviewed progress, gaps, challenges and opportunities on the VPoA priority areas, and addressed the impacts of multiple crises on LLDCs progress. Over the course of two days, discussions involved sharing innovative solutions, lessons and policy measures on national and subregional development priorities and gaps in implementing key action areas of the VPoA Roadmap. The main focus of the discussions was on transport, energy connectivity, digital trade and trade facilitation in North and Central Asia.
“Central Asian economies are strongly inter-dependent and require effective regional connectivity and integration to reach their potential,” said Sohail Khan Deputy Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation “Regional organizations and partners have a critical role to bring countries and stakeholders from the region together and provide an inclusive platform to discuss priorities, needs and gaps at national and regional level.”
The meeting brought together government representatives and technical experts dealing directly with the implementation of the VPoA and related issues of transit, trade, infrastructure development, structural economic transformation and transport from the 7 LLDCs in the sub-region. The meeting also included representatives of transit countries from the region and development partners as well as the UN system, relevant regional and sub-regional organizations, other international organizations, regional and international financial institutions; and the private sector.
“Although Central Asia has made some notable progress, this Expert Group Meeting provides the opportunity to reflect and look inward in proposing elements and solutions that will effectively respond to the unique challenges faced by LLDCs in the sub-region,” said Arken Arystanov, Chairman of the Board, KazAID.
As an associated event of the EGM, the Secretariat organized the Workshop on Leveraging Public and Private Investment for Accelerate the Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action in North and Central Asia on 9 June to have focused discussion on resource mobilization to accelerate the implementation of the VPoA. Experts and participating policymakers exchanged experiences and good practices in attracting foreign direct investment and enabling Public-Private Partnership to finance sustainable connectivity infrastructures. Participants also explored the potential of sustainable and innovative finance, such as SDG bond and debt-for-climate swaps and discussed deepening multilateral cooperation between stakeholders at all levels.
The outcomes of the Expert Group Meeting as well as the Workshop will provide inputs to the Euro-Asian Final Review of the Vienna Programme of Action in Bangkok, Thailand, in August 2023 and, in turn, to the Third UN Conference on LLDCs in 2024. The Landlocked Developing Countries in North and Central Asia are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.