UN: Economic Slowdown Threatens World's Poorest Countries

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development warns the global economic slowdown threatens to undercut the modest progress achieved by the world's poorest countries during the past few years.  A new report by UNCTAD finds the 50 least developed countries are particularly vulnerable because of their dependence on selling a few commodities.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the report in Geneva.

A new report finds the values of exports of the world's 50 poorest nations climbed by a collective 80 percent between 2004 and 2006.  Their highest rate of economic growth in 30 years.

But, the report notes this strong growth performance is uneven and just a handful of oil and mineral exporting countries account for 76 percent of growth.  They include Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, East Timor and Yemen.

UNCTAD Secretary-General, Supachai Panitchpakdi, says the Least Developed Countries, the LCDs, are increasingly dependent on selling a few unsophisticated products.  And, this, he says, will create problems as the global economy slows down and demand for their primary commodities lessens.  

"We are concerned with the sustainability of economic growth.  We are concerned with that.  This is because the way the economic integration of the LDC's into the global economy is making them mostly vulnerable to external shocks," he said.

The LDC's main exports include petroleum, low technology manufactures, minerals, ores, metals, and farm goods.  The report warns these countries will continue to go through so-called boom and bust cycles unless they diversify what they produce and sell on world markets.  

The report says these countries must increase manufacturing, improve their use of science and technology, and find greater sources of domestic investment rather than depending on official foreign aid.

Despite the high rate of economic progress, the report says the total number of poor people in the LDCs continues to increase.   It says three-fourths of those living in these nations continue to survive on less than $2 a day and nearly 280 million people live on less than $1 a day.  

Supachai says Asian countries are making greater inroads in reducing poverty than are African countries.

"The extreme poverty in terms of number, there are still more than 200 million living in African LDCs, 70 million in Asian LDCs and one million in island LDCs," he said.  "So it seems that poverty incidence is still highest in those countries who are commodity exporters depending on petroleum, mineral and agriculture products for the majority of their export."   

The report argues the poorest countries can alleviate poverty if they export the right kinds of products.  It says despite their recent record export performance, LDCs remain marginalized in the global economy.

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