Preparatory Committee for Fifth United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference Approves Draft Programme of Action Prior to January 2022 Gathering in Qatar

The intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries voted to endorse a draft Programme of Action ahead of the January gathering in Qatar, concluding its third session today.

Approving the draft Doha Programme of Action (document A/CONF.219/2021/IPC/CRP.2) by a recorded vote of 132 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (Belarus, Russian Federation), the Preparatory Committee decided to recommend the document to world leaders for adoption at the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, to be held from 23 to 27 January 2022.  It succeeds the previous Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020.  (For details on previous sessions, see Press Releases DEV/3443 and DEV/3441.)

The Doha Conference will aim to take more tangible steps to support the least developed countries and reach the furthest behind, recognizing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on those in the most vulnerable situations.  The draft outcome document noted that least developed countries saw their economies significantly shrink in 2020.  Meanwhile, external debt burden and debt service obligations have risen significantly, wiping out progress in reducing poverty over the last decade .

The Programme of Action has six key focus areas, among them eradicating poverty and building capacity to leave no one behind; leveraging the power of science, technology and innovation to fight against multidimensional vulnerabilities and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; and supporting structural transformation as a driver of prosperity.

Courtenay Rattray, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and Secretary- General of the Conference, said the Programme of Action is a powerful symbol of solidarity for the world’s poorest people.  Now, the hard work begins to turn symbolism into action.  Noting the growing financing needs of least developed countries, he called on the international community to implement long-standing commitments to ensure these countries have access to special drawing rights, aid for trade and investment support.

He went on to underscore that support for least developed countries is not keeping pace with advancements in technology, calling for increased science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.  Observing the glaring inequalities faced by the developing world, he pointed out that half a billion people in least developed countries don’t have access to simple electricity.

Robert Rae (Canada), co-chair of the Preparatory Committee, delivered opening remarks, noting that it is particularly important to inject ambition into the Programme of Action amid challenges caused by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  All participants in draft negotiations have had a direct impact on the final text, he said.  Such an inclusive approach was important because those partners will ultimately be the ones who will drive the delivery of the commitments laid out in the Programme of Action.  The text represents the best chance to reach consensus, he emphasized, urging all Member States to recommend the current version of the draft for the Conference.

“We have come a long way,” said co-chair Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), citing numerous informal meetings and preparatory sessions, during which some difficult moments were overcome through broad efforts to ensure a balanced text.  While the draft has gone through significant changes amid negotiations, it includes such core elements as proposals for an online university, food stockholding and plans for graduation from the least developed country category.

What remains is the forthcoming implementation of the draft Doha Programme of Action, she said, emphasizing the need to closely monitor its implementation.  However, funding challenges face the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, she stressed.  Noting that the Doha Conference will be held during the pandemic, which has particularly affected the least developed countries, she underlined its timely importance.

The representative of Qatar said that the text before the Committee constitutes the broadest consensus possible and reflects the most ambitious results that can be achieved for least developed countries.  Doha will be a crucial development conference and is one of the first to be held in person since the onset of the pandemic, he noted.  His country is happy to host the event, and awaits the adoption of the Doha Political Declaration, which includes a summary of ideas that garner consensus and important political messages.

Differences emerged on several issues as the Committee moved to endorse the draft Programme of Action.  Prior to taking action on the draft outcome document, several delegations explained their positions, with Malawi’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Group of Least Developed Countries, saying that the Programme of Action takes a major step towards giving least developed countries a “fighting chance”.  However, this text is only the first step, he said, emphasizing that the journey and how successful it will be will depend on the implementation and commitment of the least developed countries and their partners.

The representative of China said some Member States remain concerned about the draft outcome document, which warrants great attention.  On the issue of debt relief, China has concerns about wording that is too broad and vague.  Debt suspension or treatment are more actionable terms that can better help the least developed countries, he said, emphasizing that his delegation remains ready to demonstrate maximum flexibility to join consensus on the draft outcome document.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the final version of the Doha Programme of Action document turned out to be imbalanced.  As such, the Russian Federation was forced to break the silence procedure, he said, emphasizing that the current text contains concepts inconsistent with the decisions and agreements among all Member States, such as the “concept of human security”, which is placed on the same level with the universally recognized concept of “leaving no one behind”.  It also includes narrower terms such as “cybersecurity”, while the General Assembly adopted a corresponding resolution regarding the use of the terminology, namely “security in the use of information and communications technology”.  Moreover, energy and climate change issues are reflected in a biased and pick-and-choose manner, he said.

Cuba’s delegate said the text before the Committee includes language that has not been agreed upon, such as the term “human security”.  As such, Cuba is ready to join the decision to recommend the document for the Conference but reiterates that it does not join consensus around the aforementioned term, he said.

South Africa’s representative said the draft will define actions over the coming decade.  As such, this blueprint must reflect relevant challenges and opportunities.  While South Africa had problems with several issues in the draft, including references to e-commerce, he said his delegation will join consensus because, among other things, overall, the draft document accurately targets many areas that require more action.

Nepal’s delegate said the draft outcome document reflects an opportunity to put least developed countries at the forefront of sustainable development, to address the impacts of the pandemic and recognize structural challenges those countries face.  If the draft’s targets are achieved, there will only be 15 countries that remain in the least developed countries category, she noted.

The representative of Belarus said the new Programme of Action must address ways to enhance resilience in the face of upheaval, as well as universal health care, social protection, sustainable use of energy and security in information and communications technology.  Noting the lack of consensus on all paragraphs of the draft outcome document, she said the new Programme of Action needs to be a balanced text, based on widely agreed upon United Nations decisions.

Prior to approving the draft decision on the Programme of Action, the Committee rejected an amendment to the text by a recorded vote of 120 against to 2 in favour (Belarus, Russian Federation), with 6 abstentions (Cameroon, China, Egypt, Kiribati, Pakistan, Zimbabwe).  The proposed amendment, introduced by the Russian Federation’s representative, would have included the following in the draft document:  “The Preparatory Committee notes that the consensus on the draft Doha Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries was not reached and decides to recommend the draft to the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries for further consideration and adoption.”

Following that action, the Russian Federation’s delegate said that the draft decision does not reflect reality and requested a recorded vote on the text.

In explaining their position on the approved draft decision, some speakers pointed to a continued widespread flexibility among delegations to reach consensus on major issues.  Others explained why they disassociated themselves from several of the draft’s provisions.

The representative of the Russian Federation reiterated that the adopted Programme of Action contains a number of paragraphs that contradict positions adopted by the General Assembly and his delegation thus cannot associate itself with those paragraphs.

Some delegations described reservations on language in the document but declared their overall intention to support consensus on the critical draft document.  The United States delegate said his delegation has been steadfast in support to its least developed country partners.  Despite some concerns on language related to trade and climate, he underlined the importance to move forward with the draft, which enjoys broad support.

The representative of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the renewal of commitment to least developed countries could not come at a more critical time.  Negotiation over the draft outcome document has been a long process, she recalled, expressing gratitude to the contributors and facilitators.

Hungary’s delegate, aligning herself with the European Union, said her delegation disassociates itself from four paragraphs referencing migration-related issues.  Migration has no positive impact on growth and development, she said, adding that Hungary disagrees with the statement in paragraph 81 that migrants contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development, and such terms in paragraph 82 as “well-managed migration”, which could lead to the erroneous conclusion that migration should be consciously organized and managed.  She said her delegation cannot support paragraph 83, referring to the Global Compact for Migration, which has not been adopted by many States, including Hungary, and paragraph 85, which does not refer to national competencies regarding labour migration and national labour markets, thus giving the impression that these may fall outside the competence of Member States.

Iran’s representative emphasized that the Programme of Action document is not legally binding.  As such, Iran is not committed to elements which are in contradiction with its national priorities.  Noting that the text contains elements that do not garner consensus, he said his delegation disassociates itself from the paragraphs in question.

Guinea’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the many efforts made during negotiations to advance interests of the least developed countries.  The process comes at a unique moment in time amid the pandemic when these countries are becoming a litmus test for achieving sustainable development over the coming decade, he noted.

In a similar vein, the speaker for Turkey said low vaccination rates and climate change impacts threaten to reverse the achievements of least developed countries.  Calling for renewed collective commitment to find solutions to the challenges they face, she said the full functioning of the United Nations Technology Bank will be crucial.

Australia’s representative, also speaking for New Zealand, said the document is the result of collective aspirations.  Reiterating the importance of least developed countries being able to build back better from COVID‑19, she reaffirmed the value attached to relations with development partners to ensure smooth graduations from the least developed country category.  In terms of process, she regretted to note that one delegation proposed an amendment but was pleased to see broad support for the draft outcome document.

The speaker for the United Kingdom said COVID‑19, poverty and job loss, among other challenges, continue to have an impact on least developed countries.  Tireless negotiations have produced a concrete draft that builds on agreements such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and addresses a range of issues at a time when the least developed countries cannot afford any delays in advancing gains.

Japan’s representative, noting productive negotiations, said COVID‑19 continues to be a burden to least developed countries.  The international community must step up its efforts to implement the new Programme of Action to ensure that all efforts are made towards achieving progress.

India’s representative said all concerns were not fully heard during negotiations, but many efforts have been made to reach agreement.  As such, India supports the draft and anticipates a successful conference.

The representative of Egypt expressed support for all of the efforts to reach consensus on the Programme of Action document and recognized the ownership and commitment of the least developed countries, in that regard.

In closing remarks, the co-chairs thanked all stakeholders for their input.  Mr. Rae said the international community should spend more time focusing on action rather than fighting over language.  In that context, the concrete and specific actions set out in the document are more important than the words used to describe them, he said, pointing out that the biggest compromises made during negotiations were by least developed countries themselves.

The Conference also adopted the revised proposed organization of work (document A/CONF.219/2021/IPC/L.3/Add.1/Rev.1) and authorized the Rapporteur to include the deliberations from this resumed meeting as part of the report on the second session.

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