Subject: IPS: East Timor seeks 'least developed' status

Asia Times July 12, 2002

East Timor seeks 'least developed' status

By Thalif Deen (Inter Press Service)

UNITED NATIONS - East Timor, the world's newest nation, will ask the United Nations to designate it a "least developed country" (LDC).

This status is conferred upon the poorest countries in the world and provides some preferential trade and aid treatment. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that was annexed by Indonesia, became an independent country in May.

Constancio Pinto, East Timor's charge d'affaires and ambassador-designate to the United States, said his country plans to seek LDC status as soon as it formally joins the United Nations.

John Miller of the New York-based East Timor Action Network said it would be in the country's interest to become an LDC. "They will be entitled to certain concessions from the European Union and other donors," he said.

As an LDC, East Timor will be eligible for several economic benefits, including increased aid, concessionary loans and lower tariffs for its exports.

Under the European Union "Everything but Arms" initiative, all of East Timor's exports, excluding military equipment, would enter the 15 EU member states duty-free. This concession currently applies to all 49 LDCs.

The number of LDCs has increased from 24 in 1971 to 49 last year. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the UN undersecretary general for LDCs, said it would be "appropriate" for East Timor to file its application after becoming the 190th UN member state, probably this September.

Of the existing LDCs, 34 are in Africa. The remaining 15 include nine in Asia, five in the Pacific, and one in the Caribbean.

In a study released last month, the UN Development Program (UNDP) said that East Timor would be among the world's poorest countries in terms of finance and human development.

East Timor's human development index - based on life expectancy, educational attainment and income per person - is on a par with three other LDCs: Angola, Bangladesh and Haiti.

According to UNDP figures, East Timor's per capita income is about US$478. The average life expectancy is 57 years. Nearly half the population of about 800,000 survives on less than 55 cents a day. More than half of all adults in the country are illiterate, and more than half the country's infants are underweight.

However, the rising number of LDCs is interpreted by a number of diplomats and officials as a major setback to developing nations whose economies have taken a severe beating from growing debt problems, declining commodity prices, increased tariff barriers and the debilitating aspects of economic globalization.

Chowdhury said the UN system and the international community have focused on LDCs for decades, assembling conferences and adopting programs of action to improve these nations' economic and social prospects.

Despite these good intentions, the situation has not improved, Chowdhury added. A yardstick for success, he argued, would be a decline in the number of LDCs by the time a fourth international summit on their situation and prospects is held, possibly in the next decade.

So far, the only country that has graduated from the ranks of LDCs is Botswana.

The UN's Committee for Development Policy (CDP), which sits in judgment over which countries should be given LDC status, has also identified the Republic of Congo and Ghana as meeting the criteria for addition to the list.

The thresholds for inclusion are: population of less than 75 million; per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of less than $1,000; Augmented Physical Quality of Life Index (combining health, nutrition and education) of less than 59 (out of a possible total of 100); and an economic vulnerability index (EVI) of less than 36. A country has to meet all these criteria to be designated an LDC.

The CDP has identified 16 additional countries that meet some, but not all, of the criteria: Cameroon, China, Cote d'Ivoire, North Korea, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.


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