As Kenya prepares to host the Tenth World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in December, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi is urging African states categorised as least developed countries (LDC) to rethink their status because it stymies economic integration.
The LDC status presents a trade barrier for countries that are not listed as least developed. Speaking to People Daily in Nairobi, Dr Kituyi noted with concern that economic partnership within the East African Community (EAC) bloc appears to be discriminating and could be punishing Kenya by denying it equal market access on the global platform because other partner states in the economic block are listed as LDCs.
This is despite the fact that the principle of the EAC common market should be that of equal market access among partners. “Africa must understand why graduating from LDCs is made hostile, and why people are happy in being called poor,” Mukhisa said, adding that it is all about market access and resources.
“We should not punish upward mobility but reward,” he said. Mukhisa said by not being listed as an LDC, Kenya must not be penalised but have similar market access in global trade and influence trade negotiations.
To come up with the LDC statuses, every three years the UN Economic and Social Council evaluates countries based on three criteria: average household income, based on the country’s gross national income; human health, nutrition, average level of school achieved, and literacy rates (called “human assets”); and economic health and vulnerability.
If countries meet the threshold on all three criteria and have a population of less than 75 million, they are named an LDC, provided the government accepts the status. Thirty-three of the 48 countries are in Africa.
Nine are Asian, and five are Pacific Island nations. As agreed in a forum in Istabul which moved that African countries should not be among LDCs, Kituyi said that trying to explain this is important for countries which are proud not to be called LDC. The bad news for Africa is that the continent is still being held back by conflicts, war and diseases.
The good news is that some countries such as Angola, which is currently being urged to move upwards, are showing the way out,and more are expected to follow suit thanks to more Africans joining the middle class. Despite a fast growing middle class, inequality continues to rise, both within and between countries as wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few.