14 December 2018: The challenges and benefits related to graduating from the least developed countries (LDCs) category were the focus of an event organized by the UN Office of the UN High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) and the Secretariat of the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP). The event also highlighted a recently published book on Bangladesh’s expected graduation from the LDC category in 2024.

LDCs are characterized by low levels of income and severe structural impediments to sustainable development. The category was established by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1971 to acknowledge that special support measures are needed to assist the least developed among the developing countries. Currently 47 countries are part of the LDC category.

If Bangladesh meets the graduation criteria again in 2021, it will be recommended for graduation from the LDC category in 2024.

Decisions on inclusion into, and graduation from, the list of LDCs are made by the UNGA based on recommendations by the CDP that are endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The CDP, a subsidiary advisory body of ECOSOC and composed of 24 members, analyzes the list of LDCs every three years during triennial reviews to identify any countries that may qualify for inclusion into or graduation from the LDC category. In March 2018, the CDP found that Bangladesh met the criteria for graduation for the first time. If Bangladesh meets the graduation criteria for a second time, at the next triennial review in 2021, the CDP will recommend it for graduation from the LDC category in 2024.

The book titled, ‘Bangladesh’s Graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Group: Pitfalls and Promises,’ explores, inter alia: the issues of moving out of the LDC category; the structural transformation of Bangladesh’s economy and smooth transition after graduation; prospects, challenges and strategies related to Bangladesh’s “sustainable graduation”; and whether Bangladesh’s pursuit of the 2030 Agenda will facilitate a smooth transition after LDC graduation. The book was authored by several experts and edited by Debapriya Bhattacharya, Centre for Policy Dialogue, who will serve as a CDP member starting in January 2019. It was published in October 2018.

During the event, Bhattacharya said that if Bangladesh graduates, it will be one of the first large LDCs to do so, and it is the first country to meet all three graduation thresholds of the LDC criteria, namely gross national income (GNI) per capita, human assets index (HAI) and economic vulnerability index (EVI). He noted that Bangladesh is characterized by a “double transition” since, in addition to its expected graduation from the LDC category in 2024, it transitioned from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country in 2015.

Bhattacharya said advancing towards the SDGs will contribute to a smoother and more sustainable transition from the LDC category, and that 16 out of the 17 Goals are linked to graduation criteria. He called for a universal regime that will support graduating countries towards a smooth transition, especially in the areas of: access to concessional finance; trade, including access to markets; access to climate finance and climate facility; and flexibility of implementation of intellectual protection regimes under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Roland Mollerus, CDP Secretariat, reported that since 1971, five LDCs have graduated from the LDC category, namely: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, the Maldives, and Samoa. He said five additional LDCs should graduate by 2024. Those are: Vanuatu (graduation in 2020); Angola (graduation in 2021); Bhutan (graduation in 2023), São Tomé and Príncipe (graduation in 2024); and Solomon Islands (graduation in 2024).

Masud Bin Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, said graduation from the LDC category is an important milestone for Bangladesh’s pursuit of development. He noted that the graduation process is happening at a time when the world is witnessing fundamental changes, including in terms of rising nationalism, and that protectionist measures could create strong disincentives for graduating countries. He remarked that the book is “very timely,” considering that his government has commissioned a study to assess the impact of graduation for Bangladesh and to suggest practical solutions for a smooth transition.

Perks Master Ligoya, Permanent Representative of Malawi, which is assuming the chairmanship of the LDC group from 2018-2021, underlined Bangladesh’s high degree of vulnerability due climate change impacts, natural disasters, and the Rohingya refugee crisis, among other factors. He said the period following graduation will be challenging for Bangladesh as the country will lose specific support measures. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, The New School and CDP, welcomed the book’s analysis of the costs of graduation, and underlined the importance of climate finance and technology access for graduating and other countries.

A draft UNGA resolution on following up on the UN’s LDC conference held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2011, was approved by the UNGA’s Second Committee in December 2018. Ligoya remarked that the resolution invites all development partners to strengthen their support for graduation and smooth transition toward graduating and recently graduated countries.

Heidi Schroderus-Fox, OHRLLS, noted the creation of the UN Task Force on Graduation and Smooth Transition, which brings together representatives from various UN entities. The Task Force discusses graduation issues as well as concrete ways in which in the UN System can provide support to the graduating countries.

On 27 November, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched the ‘Handbook on the Least Developed Country Category: Inclusion, Graduation and Special Support Measures’ examining, among other issues, criteria and procedures for inclusion and graduation, and international support measures for the LDCs. [Publication: ‘Bangladesh’s Graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Group: Pitfalls and Promises’] [CDP Website] [OHRLLS Website] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]