Nine of the twelve countries ranked lowest on the 2002 Human Development Index are landlocked. Although landlocked developing countries represent 12.5 per cent of the world's land area and 4 per cent of the global population, their combined gross domestic product accounts for only 0.3 per cent of the total. Without direct access to the oceans, these countries must pay an average of 15 per cent of export earnings on transport; for some African countries it is as high as 50 per cent, other developing countries spend only 7 percent on such services and developed countries 4 per cent.
Kazakhstan--the largest landlocked country and the farthest from the sea--hosted 83 countries and 23 nongovernmental organizations at the international Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries and Donor Countries and International Financial and Development Institutions on Transit Transport Cooperation (Almaty Ministerial Conference) on 28 and 29 August 2003. This meeting in the city of Almaty featured a compact, action-oriented agenda and was held at a low cost, showing a move away from the mega-summits of the past.
Landlocked, transit (those that lie between landlocked countries and the sea) and donor countries, as well as United Nations agencies and representatives from civil society and the private sector, negotiated and approved the Almaty Programme of Action. Its aims include: streamlining the red tape involved in sending exports to seaports, thereby reducing travel days and costs; improving rail, road, air and pipeline infrastructure; greater access to international markets; and technical and financial assistance from donor countries.
Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), described the difficult situation of landlocked countries: "New manufacturing and trading practices, such as global supply chains and just-in-time production systems, continue to spread.
These trends are making transport costs and time critical factors in determining global trade and investment patterns. Unfortunately, landlocked countries, due to their high transportation costs and distances from ports and international markets, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to competing in global markets."
The Conference was coordinated by Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, who told the UN Chronicle that the Conference was an important step forward. "Thirty landlocked developing countries did not have a United Nations document supporting their cause. For the first time, this doubly disadvantaged group of countries has a UN-mandated declaration and programme of action. Transit and donor countries, UN agencies, civil and private sector parties showed their support [for landlocked countries]."
Mr. Chowdhury said that in order to succeed landlocked developing countries must be able to compete on a "level playing field", which meant preferential access to ports and world markets for their exports. Their transit neighbours must be willing to give them improved access to seaports. However, this situation could be problematic, considering that the transit countries themselves are usually developing and must also export as much as they can. In addition, landlocked countries and their transit neighbours often export the same products.
Mr. Chowdhury said that transit countries made the point that they needed support from donor countries to be able to help the landlocked ones: "At the beginning of the Conference, transit countries asked, 'How can we provide infrastructure and support to landlocked countries when we need assistance ourselves?' These are developing countries, they need to be supported so that the landlocked can in turn benefit. If the railroads, roads, ports, waterway systems and airports are developed in transit countries, landlocked countries will benefit. …