UN: Doha Programme of Action for LDCs adopted with some reservations

The new generation Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022-2031 (DPoA) was adopted by the first part of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) on 17 March, at the UN headquarters in New York.

The adoption of the DPoA was overdue as the LDC5 Conference, scheduled to take place in January 2022 in Doha, Qatar, was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, it was postponed for the second time, originally being scheduled for January 2021 following completion of the preceding Istanbul Programme of Action for LDCs (2011-2020).

On 23 February, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution to reschedule the Conference and, "on an exceptional basis, to hold it in two parts".

The first part on 17 March was to adopt the DPoA without further delay and the second part is now scheduled for 5-9 March 2023 in Doha which would adopt the political Doha Declaration as well as take stock of the DPoA implementation in its first year.

The UNGA adoption of the DPoA was by consensus, presided by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

However, post adoption, some Member States, namely, Russia, Cuba, China, as well as the Holy See (observer status) took the floor and expressed "reservations" as well as "disassociation" with certain aspects and paragraphs of the DPoA.

The United States also made clear its policy positions on several issues in the DPoA.

Opening Remarks

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recalled the "two fundamental truths" which were recognised by the UN to create the LDC category five decades ago.

"First, different histories, vulnerabilities and structural inequalities - often not of these countries' making - were posing enormous obstacles to climbing the development ladder" and "second, every country deserves a level playing field to unlock its human potential and build strong, resilient economies".

He drew attention to the "five lifelines" rooted in the DPoA - the lifeline of vaccines; a global financial system that puts the LDCs first; supporting structural transformation across LDCs; climate action; and the lifeline of peace and security.

In his hard-hitting statement, elaborating on the challenges and required redressals in relation to the five lifelines, he called out policies and decisions that "prioritize the health and wealth of people in advanced countries over the lives of people in poor countries" as well as a "morally bankrupt financial system" that was "designed by the rich and powerful to benefit the rich and powerful".

Among other crucial imperatives to tackle each of the lifelines, Guterres called for the sharing of licenses and intellectual property to produce tests, vaccines and treatments towards fighting COVID-19; urgent debt relief (restructuring and cancellation in some cases); re-capitalizing multilateral development banks and re-channelling special drawing rights (SDRs) towards increasing liquidity; and the need to create a fair tax system and combat illicit financial flows.

He also proposed a "New Agenda for Peace" that includes a "New Social Contract within all societies".

"Across these five lifelines - and the entire Doha Programme of Action - Least Developed Countries can count on the total commitment of the entire UN system," he underscored, in conclusion.

The other high-level opening statement was presented by President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi, with an impassioned plea, in his capacity as the Chair of the LDC Group.

At the outset, he highlighted the "suffocating onslaught" of climate change events occurring in quicker succession than ever before, citing the case of his country ravaged by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, and recently by Cyclones Ana and Gombe.

This additional climate catastrophe had to be borne when LDCs are "already choking" from unsustainable poverty (35 per cent increase in the last two years) and debt burdens (racing towards USD 1 trillion) coupled with socio-economic devastation by the COVID-19 pandemic, including inequalities in vaccines distribution and access to global markets and supply chains, he pointed out.

President Chakwera stated that the current global context demands a "collaborative, collective and courageous response" and urged for the adoption of the DPoA which provided the "best opportunity for charting a recovery path for the world's most vulnerable countries" in the form of ending hunger, setting a benchmark for official development assistance (ODA) and in deliverables such as establishment of an online university, an international investment support center, and a system of food stockholding for LDCs.

He stressed that "for the DPoA to succeed, it needs implementation", calling development partners to go "beyond fulfilling their commitments".

He also called for strong monitoring mechanisms at the global and regional levels, including coherent and consistent support from the entire UN system as well as strengthening of the OHRLLS (Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States).

Statements by Members States

Following the adoption of the DPoA, Member States took the floor by order of political and regional groups and then in their respective national capacity.

Pakistan, for the Group of 77 (G77) and China, said that it is "unconscionable" that 14 per cent of the global population remain some of the poorest and most vulnerable and that "we must start with the furthest behind" to realise the collective commitment of leaving no one behind.

It said that the adoption of the DPoA is an important step in that direction, however, "meeting its ambitious targets will require reinvigorated global partnerships based on scaled-up means of implementation (finance, technology transfer, capacity building)", further laying out five concrete steps in this regard.

First, addressing vaccine inequity through "adequate and timely access to quality, safe and effective vaccines".

Second, "as promised", the provision of the historical commitment of ODA of 0.15-0.20 per cent of OECD's (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) gross national income.

Third, addressing the increasingly unsustainable debt burdens (6 LDCs classified as in debt distress while 17 LDCs are at high risk of debt distress) with "immediate actions" such as debt relief, debt restructuring, debt swap and redistribution and rechannelling of the SDRs.

Fourth, universal access to social protection, and lastly, addressing "long-standing structural problems including enhancing international cooperation on IFFs, strengthening good practices on the recovery and return of stolen assets and enhancing intergovernmental international tax cooperation".

On the agreed concrete DPoA deliverables, it urged for "timely elaboration of the terms of reference" in order to progress towards their "meaningful implementation".

Pakistan concluded that the G77 will support the implementation of the DPoA within the framework of South- South cooperation while noting that this is not a substitute but a complement to North-South cooperation.

Botswana, for the Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), welcomed the UNGA's decision to hold the LDC5 Conference in two parts, recognising that it is in the "best interest" of the LDCs, LLDCs (17 are also LDCs) and the international community to adopt the DPoA without further delay.

It also highlighted the gravity of the LDCs' recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic given their diminished fiscal space compounded by the debt crisis and limited productive capacities including vaccine inequity.

It was pleased to note that both the DPoA and the LLDC's Vienna Programme of Action (2014-2024) have much in common and grounded in the "same spirit of solidarity and conviction that achieving development progress is the right for all, in particular for the most vulnerable countries".

With the Third UN Conference on the LLDCs coming up in 2024, Botswana looked forward to building on the experiences of the LDC5 preparations.

Lesotho, for the African Group, said that matters of the LDCs are of great importance to them with 33 out of the 46 LDCs located in the African continent.

It stressed that it is "absolutely crucial" that the DPoA, along with the Agenda 2030 at the same time, has a "successful outcome not just on paper but on the ground", further pointing out that "implementation cannot be just an idea" but rather seeing "tangible results" in the 10-year time period.

It underscored the need to ensure that the LDCs achieve "sustainable graduation" and reiterated that through the DPoA, "we need to ensure smooth and sustainable transition strategy consistent with all UNGA resolutions on smooth transition coupled with improved coordination of the UN system and support of the LDCs' development and trading partners".

Barbados, for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), reiterated "its solidarity with the LDCs with whom we share many characteristics such as vulnerability to climate change, weakness of our means of production and dependence of our economies on exogenous factors".

It urged international partners to "redouble their efforts" to enable LDCs to address their structural constraints and challenges hindering their development efforts and also called for "equitable and timely availability" of COVID-19 vaccines, "increased financial support" to address indebtedness and "reverse the decline in ODA".

Antigua and Barbuda, for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), also said that "we share similar challenges with that of our colleagues [8 SIDS are also LDCs]" thus, its steadfast support and advocacy for the LDCs.

It highlighted that climate change and the current global economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are "disproportionately" affecting the LDCs and SIDS, and prioritised the need for ODA support and development finance.

While pursuing the goal of having "no LDCs by 2030" (the DPoA strives towards a target of 15 additional LDCs to meet the graduation criteria by 2031), AOSIS pointed out the impact of "premature graduation" with graduated countries still dependent on the UN system and development partners.

In this regard, it stressed on prioritising "measures beyond GDP that take into account the unique vulnerability of graduated LDCs and SIDS", further committing to continue to lead the process for the development of a "multi-vulnerability index" to address the gaps of GDP measurement.

Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the LDC5 Preparatory Committee Co-Chairs (its counterpart being Canada), was pleased with the adoption of the DPoA by consensus and that the preparatory process was "long and strenuous yet meaningful and rewarding".

It said that the "real work will start with the implementation" of the DPoA which contains "excellent architecture of comprehensive follow-up and monitoring mechanisms", further urging development partners, also countries of the South, the entire UN system, the private sector and civil society to remain "constructively engaged and deliver on their respective commitments".

It called upon the UN agencies to prioritise integrating the DPoA into their strategic plans and programmes and underlined the "pivotal role" of the OHRLLS, requesting all to support the office towards strengthening its capacity to fulfil its mandate.

Lao PDR, which will be graduating in 2026 (along with Bangladesh and Nepal), stated that "despite having met graduation thresholds, it does not imply challenges will end".

It said that ODA remains a crucial source of external financing for LDCs and that "continued necessary support must be ensured so that graduating countries will not slip back to LDC" category.

Nepal, as a member of the core negotiating team of the DPoA, emphasized that for the effective implementation of the DPoA, the first step must be to ensure "synergy" between climate action, recovery from COVID-19 and the twin implementation of the DPoA and the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030.

It underscored that due attention has to be given to countries in the graduation pipeline and those recently graduated to ensure their smooth transition (currently, 16 LDCs are in different stages of graduation with only 4 LDCs completely graduated since 2011).

Nepal also stressed on the fulfillment of commitments by development partners on ODA, market access, debt relief, technology transfer, technical assistance, capacity building and Aid for Trade.

Indonesia said "no country is safe until everyone is safe", thus emphasizing on renewed and strengthened global partnership being key which included realization of ODA and other commitments according to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.

It underlined that in its role as the G20 Presidency (2022), "vaccine equity is the top priority" and that it is "committed to make it a reality".

India said that while considering robust measures to address debt and liquidity problems, "we shouldn't duplicate measures and platforms already in place such as of the G20, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank".

It called for the need to "ensure that developed countries deliver on their commitments to combat climate change" and "delivering on finance and adaptation for developing countries".

Turkey, as the host of the previous LDC4 Conference as well as a member of the Preparatory Committee and Co-Chair of the Friends of the LDCs, welcomed the DPoA and underlined the need to "deliver commitments on the ground in a timely manner".

As the host to the UN Technology Bank for the LDCs, it informed that it has renewed its financial commitment to the Bank for the next five years.

Brazil said that its partnership with the LDCs has been based on "solidarity, horizontality and non-conditionality through South-South cooperation".

It said that it could provide insights in some areas of the DPoA such as in relation to promotion of investments wherein it advocates for a "new model of bilateral agreements more focused on cooperation and less on judicial dispute settlement", encouraging this new approach for the international investment support centre for the LDCs.

Russia stated that the "DPoA does not reflect a consensus actually" due to decisions in there that have "neglected" UN decisions.

It particularly pointed out the issue of human security since it is a "concept not accepted by all countries".

It also had concerns about the use of "cybersecurity" in the DPoA as an "obsolete term", saying that the document should use the terminology "agreed in the context of relevant UNGA resolutions in the use of ICT (information and communications technology)."

Further, Russia had concerns around the issue of access to energy in the DPoA given the elevation of "cleaner and renewable energy" compared to traditional fossil fuel energy.

In view of the entire context of concerns, in closing, it said that it "disassociates" itself from paragraphs 3, 108, 115, 116, 129, 155, and 251 of the DPoA, further asking to include its position on the record.

Cuba registered its concern on the issue of "human security", stating that the DPoA contains "formulations that do not enjoy consensus".

It reiterated that "UNGA resolution 68/290 does not define the concept of human security" and hence, the term "does not enjoy consensus, neither in its conceptualization nor in its implementation".

It said that it is only by "virtue of our solidarity" with the LDCs that it joined the decision to adopt the DPoA, however, "this does not imply that we accept the notion that there is consensus on this term".

Cuba also underscored that "developed countries must honour their historical responsibility and international commitments, including ODA, as well as more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets" and furthermore, emphasized on taking "real steps to achieve a fairer and more equitable international economic order without which the challenges facing LDCs cannot be met".

China expressed concerns in relation to issues around "debt relief" and "debt suspension" in the DPoA, stating that such terms are "too vague and widely open to interpretation" and do not accurately reflect the commitments made by the international community on debt.

In this context, it decided to "disagree" with some particular paragraphs on their formulations on debt relief and debt suspension.

As the key contributor to the G20's policy on debt suspension, it reiterated the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the Common Framework for Debt treatments beyond the DSSI as the proper tools to handle the narrative on debt relief and debt management since they enjoy international consensus.

(Since these are G20 initiatives, there is no formal international consensus.)

The Holy See expressed its reservations on the issues of sexual and reproductive health care and gender.

The United States, while extending consensus to the DPoA, made clear its policy positions on several issues, underscoring that the DPoA is "non-binding and does not create new, or affect, existing rights or obligations under international law nor does it create any new financial commitments".

It stressed that the "indicators, governance proposals and language developed through the 2030 Agenda and reflected in the DPoA sets no new precedent for international financial institutions".

"UN negotiations including the outcome document of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the DPoA are immaterial to our position on trade and have no relevance for US trade policy, for our trade obligations or commitments or for the agenda at the WTO," it emphasized.

It further clarified that it is "not committed to the UN ODA targets of 0.7 per cent GDP nor to 0.15-0.20 per cent GNI to LDCs" as well as pointed out that the "proper fora to discuss eligibility and allocation of concessional assistance are the boards of the multilateral development banks and the OECD".

In closing, the US also raised concerns that the DPoA used terminology that "lacks agreed upon international definitions including the right to development and illicit financial flows", adding that regarding the latter, member states should focus more on "preventing and combating corruption related crimes at home".

Statements were also made by other LDCs and developing countries, namely, Senegal, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Bhutan, the Maldives, the Gambia, Uganda, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and South Africa.

Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Korea and Hungary took the floor from the developed countries.

By Prerna Bomzan.

Source: South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #9534, Tuesday 25 March 2022.