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Is Canada Ready To Support Least Developed Countries?

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un midterm review 2016

By John Sinclair

In late May, Turkey, despite security worries and about 3 million Syrian refugees, was the well-organized host to the UN's mid-term review of the 2011 Istanbul Program of Action (IPoA) for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). It additionally financed the participation of all 48 LDCs (including 18 "fragile" states) plus the Landlocked (e.g. Nepal and Small Islands, Vanuatu), threatened by rising oceans.

The political leadership role of Turkey reflects that it, like Mexico and Korea, is an OECD member as well as a recent developing country. It is a country transitioning to becoming another middle power, already a substantial donor in its own right not too dissimilar in scale to Canada. (Turkey this year spent about US$4 billion.)

Antalya was a well-scripted event, even if it followed the unfortunate habit of many events, including G7/G20, to have an outcome document painfully pre-negotiated in another world -- in this case, by diplomats in New York. Donors and G77 took over a month to blink and agree: no retreating from old promises, no mention of enhanced aid or trade.

The discussion in Antalya contrasted with that seemingly tense pre-negotiation. It was largely open and inclusive as it exposed diverse perspectives from political leaders and engaged professionals in plenaries, round tables and side-events, plus a parallel civil society programme. Nothing changed in the Antalya outcome document, but hopefully participants, notably those LDC leaders and major donors, took back new real-world insights into the effort needed to defeat global poverty.

The image above replaces a hundred words. Among the top participants talking global poverty were: the head of UNDP, the Turkish foreign minister and senior officials from the still-fragmented UN family. Leading at ministerial level for the LDCs was Bangladesh, a major recipient of Canadian bilateral aid from its birth. Of course the major Western donors were there, but only senior officials, almost no ministers.

The meeting was understandingly dominated by mellowed-but-still-demanding LDC voices, notably from Africa, home to 36 of 48 LDCs. While mainly still weak performers, they asked for attention and inclusion. They questioned unfulfilled promises. They wanted to have both more aid and more job-intensive foreign direct investment. They were worried to see the same shaky promises in the Addis Agenda (AAAA) that set out how the more ambitious UN Agenda 2030 might be financed. LDCs want help big-time with innovation, so they were encouraged by the naming of a first head for a new technology bank for the LDCs, but nobody seems to know how patented technologies would be transferred from corporate owners.

Reflecting the unhelpful silos within the UN, some LDCs and CSOs feared the new UN Agenda 2030 might diminish "their" Istanbul programme. Unsaid, but more realistic in UN turf terms, Istanbul ideas should be melded into Agenda 2030 as an essential step in meeting the latter's challenge of "no one left behind."

Western donors should equally understand that the LDCs/fragile countries would inevitably be the centerpiece of any pro-poor strategy, with their growing share of the world's population and thus as home to most of the world's poorest.

CSOs were present with their own program addressed by many of the senior UN officials present and some key Western donors. They were invited to speak formally with other top table dignitaries at the opening and closing plenaries. They were the voice of a new generation of NGOs -- overwhelmingly from Africa, with some Asians. They were there as independent voices, watching both donors and their own governments to see what was overlooked from the original Istanbul pledges. They firmly demanded more aid as well as recognizing that their own countries needed better governance, private sector investment and enhanced market access. Their outcome document produced in situ, not New York, was wary; they feared much of Istanbul remained a distant dream. They cautioned that there can be "No SDGs without LDCs."

Canada was of course present, no doubt assuring leading LDC voices and other donors that we were "back," but still trying to define how best to move forward with the challenge of enhanced support for the poorest. It was perhaps also noting that the 48 LDCs represent about a third of the total UN vote pool needed to be persuaded to support Canada in the 2021 UN Security Council election.

Looking forward, will Antalya now stir our pro-poor Canadian government into moving from talk to walking via a new focus on aid for the LDCs/fragiles? The immediate option is easy and cheap -- to shift a small percentage of existing Canadian ODA to meet the UN LDC ODA target of 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNI. But a real partnership requires more than funding.

We will also need a stronger programming presence on the ground to work on increasing their absorptive capacity, to share in improving their governance and making our own rules less onerous. LDCs made very clear that they also want more quality private investment -- but have we over-promised on our capacity to leverage our companies?

Reversing the often weak resource situation of LDCs and fragile states is not easy. Are we ready to commit for that longer haul... or will we fail in the challenge of ensuring "no one left behind?"

John Sinclair was a development practitioner with the former CIDA and World Bank. He is a member of the McLeod Group and was a senior fellow in the University of Ottawa's School of International Development and Global Studies.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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