Commonwealth, UNCTAD and Partners Advocates for Strategic Trade Reforms to Empower Least Developed Countries

03 July 2024

Last week, the Commonwealth Secretariat, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the Permanent Mission of Nepal in Geneva co-organised a session at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 9th Global Review of the ‘Aid for Trade’ initiative.

Moderated by Ambassador Kadra Ahmed Hassan of Djibouti, the session explored strategies to position trade at the core of the Least Developed Country (LDC) development agenda. LDCs continue to be marginalised in international trade and collectively account for less than 1% of global exports.

The event focused on strategic approaches in three areas. First was addressing LDCs’ unique and complex vulnerabilities through targeted support that helps position trade as a driver of growth, structural transformation and sustainable development in LDCs. Second was enhancing productive capacities in LDCs to provide a foundation to diversify their economies and exports, ensuring they are better positioned to deal with potential trade-related challenges before and after graduation. The third focus was on effective support for LDCs transitioning out of the LDC category, ensuring a smooth and sustainable graduation. This includes granting flexibility, transition periods, and assistance in capacity-building and institutional arrangements to maintain development momentum.

Ambassador Ram Prasad Subedi of Nepal highlighted the challenges Nepal will face upon graduation in 2026, stating that:

“In the WTO, LDCs are seeking some flexibilities, a transition period, a time and space to develop capacity as well as to make institutional arrangements to ensure that graduation becomes smooth, irreversible and sustainable.”

Mr Paul Akiwumi, Director, Division for Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes at UNCTAD noted that the old commodity-dependent development model has not worked for LDCs and called for more targeted policies and strategies to build diversified productive capacity, including through gap assessments:

“Fostering productive capacities not only requires a change in the development narrative. It must also be accompanied by a reorientation of macroeconomic, industrial, rural and infrastructure (including energy, ICTs and transport) policies and strategies, as well as other relevant sectoral policies.”

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Dr Ruth Kattumuri, Senior Director, Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat proposed practical policy solutions to tackle LDCs’ trade-related vulnerabilities:

“We need better access to innovative new technologies for LDCs to enable them to upgrade their productive capacity, improve productivity, and produce and trade more sophisticated, diverse and higher value products and services.”

Other panellists, Mr Dinesh Kumar Ghimire, Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies of Nepal and Mr Paul Whittingham, Head, Trade for Development at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office shared their valuable country perspectives on how LDCs and their development partners can collaborate to foster more inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies through trade and investment leveraging Aid for Trade.

This joint activity was delivered as part of the MoU between the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNCTAD, which fosters deeper institutional collaboration.