15-16 August 2022
The 32 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) with a population of 533 million share common problems due to their geographical location, which affect their economic engagement with the rest of the world. Long distances from the nearest seaports, poorly developed transport and transit systems and cumbersome transit procedures cause the LLDCs to incur higher transport and transit costs when compared to coastal countries. According to a recent study by the WTO (2021), trade costs in LLDCs are 1.4 times higher than that of coastal developing countries. These costs erode the competitive edge of the LLDCs resulting in a negative impact on their integration into the global economy and their overall sustainable development. They are also not able to fully tap on the benefits of global trade such as investment finance, technology and services that are needed for structural transformation of economies.
The COVID-19-related restrictive measures to cross-border and transit freight transportation along with additional inspections exacerbated the challenges that LLDCs face related to their geography. This caused supply chains disruptions, negatively affected LLDCs’ trade and the timely delivery of, and access to essential goods (including food, medical supplies and fuel), and also increased the already high trade and transportation costs. The COVID-19 pandemic also affected transport infrastructure development in many countries as resources were diverted to more urgent health and welfare needs arising from the pandemic.
LLDCs are also experiencing severe impact of climate change in the form of flooding, droughts, and landslides that are causing terrible loss and damage to transport infrastructure.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis have both underscored the need to prioritize building of resilient physical transport infrastructure and of resilient transit facilitation systems. This is necessary to facilitate faster, smoother and more efficient transit and cross-border connectivity in order to support LLDCs’ sustainable recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic also prompted the acceleration of innovation and digitalized facilitation of transport processes. However, implementing these systems require fast and stable broadband technologies that are relatively costly in many LLDCs as a result of insufficient digital infrastructure. Post-COVID-19 recovery efforts therefore need to securely embed acceleration of digitalization in order to advance transport connectivity.
The Vienna Programme of Action (VPoA) for LLDCs for the Decade 2014-2024 adopted in 2014, aims to address the special needs and challenges faced by the LLDCs through actions on six key priority areas that include fundamental transit policy issues, infrastructure development, international trade and trade facilitation, regional integration, structural economic transformation and means of implementation.
With regard to physical transport infrastructure development, the VPoA reiterates the importance of physical infrastructure in reducing trade costs and stresses the importance of: the development and maintenance of transit transport infrastructure, including corridors, in both LLDCs and transit countries; the completion of missing links; facilitating regional connectivity; and enhancing the role of private sector involvement in infrastructure development. With regard to soft infrastructure, the VPoA calls for: reducing travel time along corridors with the aim of allowing transit cargo to move 300-400 kilometres per 24 hours; significantly reducing the time spent at land borders; improving intermodal connectivity; further simplifying, harmonizing and streamlining border crossing and transit procedures; and improving transit facilities and their efficiency with the aim of reducing port and border delays and transaction costs for LLDCs. The VPoA also stresses the importance of the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
The political declaration of the High-level Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action, adopted in December 2019, makes a strong call for action for: the effective implementation of all relevant agreements to improve transit; the promotion of corridor development; the development of regionally integrated, sustainable and climate resilient transport infrastructure; and enhanced trade facilitation.
The VPoA is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that underscores the importance of sustainable transport as an enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable transport is crucial for the achievement of all the SDGs and is specifically noted in SDG 3 on health; SDG 9 on resilient infrastructure and industrialization; and SDG 11 on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The 2030 Agenda acknowledges that the most vulnerable countries, including LLDCs deserve special attention and particularly emphasizes the need for trade-related capacity-building and promotion of regional economic integration and interconnectivity.
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), which is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda, also recognizes the special challenges and needs of the LLDCs and stresses the need to support the LLDCs to enable them to structurally transform their economies, harness benefits from international trade, and develop efficient transport and transit systems.
Relevant meetings of the Group of LLDCs on transport include – the LLDCs’ Ministerial Meeting on Trade held in November 2021; the Global Meeting on Best Practices in Corridor Development and Management for the Benefit of Landlocked Developing Countries and Transit Countries held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in October 2019; the High-level Meeting on Sustainable Transport of LLDCs – held in October 2016 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; the High-Level Meeting for the Euro-Asia Region on Improving Cooperation on Transit, Trade Facilitation and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development held in Hanoi, Viet Nam in March 2017; and the Ministerial Meeting on Trade and Transport held in May 2018 in Astana, Kazakhstan. These meetings reaffirmed the importance of enhancing sustainable transport, international trade and trade facilitation for lowering transaction costs and for the achievement of the SDGs in the LLDCs and stressed the need to accelerate the implementation of the VPoA.
In addition, the first Global Sustainable Transport Conference took place in November 2016 in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Its outcome – the Ashgabat Statement on Commitments and Policy Recommendations – notes the importance of addressing the special needs of LLDCs by: establishing and promoting efficient transit transport systems that link them to international markets developing, upgrading and maintaining all modes of transit transport infrastructure; promoting and harmonizing enabling environment, regulatory frameworks and institutional arrangements for transit; and forging genuine partnerships between landlocked and transit developing countries and their development partners at the national, bilateral, sub-regional, regional and global levels.
The Second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference was held in Beijing, China in hybrid format in October 2021. The outcome of the Conference – the Beijing Statement of the Second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference – notes that the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted transport services and networks at all levels and underscored that recovery of the transport sector requires longer-term changes in both demand and supply for transport services, indicating a need for the sector to change and adapt accordingly. It also notes that the worsening crisis of climate change is triggering intentional changes towards carbon neutrality and resilience and calls for integrated solutions which can support the achievement of the objectives of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. In order to consolidate for the long run global efforts in promoting sustainable transport agenda, the Beijing Statement invited the United Nations General Assembly to consider declaring a United Nations Decade of Sustainable Transport (2022-2032) to increase global awareness and action in support of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
The Beijing Statement outlines key actions to urgently accelerate the transformation towards sustainable transport, namely:
Sustainable recovery from the pandemic is crucial for LLDCs’ integration into the global economy and the attainment of the SDGs. Yet, the lack of adequate financial resources, capacity constraints and the magnitude of the required resources to invest in infrastructure development and maintenance remain a colossal challenge facing LLDCs in their efforts to achieve sustained growth and sustainable development. Closing the existing infrastructure gap in LLDCs and transit developing countries is central to the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the VPoA.
Enhanced financing from all sources, including public, private, public-private partnerships, ODA, South-South and Triangular cooperation and innovative sources, is required to ensure improved transport cooperation that can result in reduced trade costs and a transformative change in the LLDCs and their achievement of the SDGs. It necessitates forging international, regional, sub-regional and bilateral cooperation on infrastructure projects, allocating more resources from national budgets, effectively deploying international development assistance, leveraging the role of multilateral development and financial institutions in the development and maintenance of infrastructure and attracting investment, and strengthening the role of the private sector. At the same time, it also requires a substantial investment in capacity-building to create an environment supportive of greater public and private investments in infrastructure.
The Government of Turkmenistan has made important progress to promote national and regional connectivity, particularly in the area of transit transport infrastructure development (road, rail and air infrastructure), and in facilitating faster transit including advances in sustainable energy, investment promotion and diversification. In this regard, its extensive experiences, particularly on how to advance the implementation of the outcome the Second Global Conference on Sustainable Transport, could be of benefit other LLDCs and transit countries.
Turkmenistan has also initiated significant resolutions in the field of sustainable transport. These include:
Turkmenistan further initiated resolution 75/313 - “Strengthening Connectivity Between All Modes of Transport to Ensure Stable and Reliable International Transport for Sustainable Development in and After the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)” that was adopted in July 2021. The resolution calls for stepping up efforts to enhance transport resilience in emergencies, including mobilizing adequate financial resources to increase the resilience of transport systems to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure a full, inclusive and sustainable post-disaster recovery and to build back better.
Furthermore, the General Assembly of the United Nations, in its resolution 76/217 of December 2021, decided to hold the Third United Nations Conference on LLDCs in 2024 with the mandate to undertake a comprehensive review of the implementation of the VPoA and to formulate and adopt a renewed framework for international support to address the special needs of LLDCs. The General Assembly also decided that the Conference should be preceded, where necessary, by national- and regional-level reviews, as well as thematic preparations, pre- conference events and relevant substantive material and statistical data.
It is in this context that the Government of Turkmenistan, and the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), are organizing in hybrid format a Ministerial Transport Conference for Landlocked Developing Countries under the theme, Ashgabat Process: Financing for Better Connectivity to be held on 15-16 August 2022. The Conference will be part of the preparatory process of Third United Nations Conference on LLDCs in 2024 and its outcome will contribute towards the thematic area of transport.
The key objectives of the Ministerial Conference include the following:
The Conference will be attended by Ministers of Transport from LLDCs. Transit and donor countries will be invited. Representatives of UN system entities, other international, regional and sub-regional organizations and financial institutions, private sector representatives, non- governmental organizations, the academia and other stakeholders will also be invited to participate at senior official level.
The Meeting will consist of an opening ceremony, an interactive debate, thematic sessions and a closing ceremony. At its conclusion, the meeting will adopt an outcome that will feed into the Third United Nations Conference on LLDCs.