Monday, December 8, 2014

Myanmar maintains position on list of world’s least developed countries

Myanmar Times Monday, 08 December 2014
A villager sits in his modest home in Ayeyarwady Region. Photo: Thandar Khine
Myanmar has again been named one of the world’s least developed countries in a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – a distinction the government is reportedly working toward shedding.

The country’s status as a least developed country (LDC) is nothing new. Myanmar has been on UNCTAD’s list since the late 1980s, UNDP Myanmar senior program advisor Igor Bosc said at a press briefing about the report on December 1.

To join the ranks of LDCs – which enjoy “preferential” tariff reduction and access to developed nations’ markets – countries with populations lower than 75 million people must meet a list of conditions set by the Committee for Development Policy, which every three years proposes a line-up countries for the UN Economic and Social Council to consider.

As of March of 2012, those touchstones included per capita income exceeding US$992; a “human assets” score based on nutrition, health, school enrolment and literacy indicators; and an “economic vulnerability” mark, also built on a variety of indicators, according to UNCTAD.

Countries can “graduate” from the list if they cross into the black on two of the three benchmarks for two reports, published once every three years, or if their per capita gross national income hits twice that of the required figure to exit.

Mr Bosc noted that four countries have been removed since the list came into being – Botswana, Cape Verde, Samoa and the Maldives – and that Laos is nearing graduation day.

Myanmar has passed the upper boundary on the human assets index but is not yet eligible to graduate on the other two indicators, according to Mr Bosc.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the government, but I think it is aspiring to graduate in the 2020s at some point. Whether that’s feasible or not we will see,” he said. “It’s important not only to look at the human development side ... but also the economic development and the structural transformation that is necessary of the economy with specific policies.”

Without “structural transformation” – a process Mr Bosc said takes particular sectors of the economy such as farming and transforms and broadens them into ecosystems that include initiatives like food processing – LDCs cannot achieve momentous growth in a way that will have real human impact.

“The paradox is that on the human development side and all sorts of social indicators, [the social indicators] haven’t followed” major growth from the 1990s until about 2008, Mr Bosc said.

“The report ... argues that many of the LDCs have failed to go through a structural transformation of their economies that would allow them to translate that growth into human outcomes.”

To get off the list, which includes nine Asian countries and 48 nations worldwide, Myanmar will have to continue to grow its gross national income and develop its economic resilience.

“It’s a good thing that Myanmar actually wants to graduate,” Mr Bosc said.

“There’s no blueprint, but overall you need to focus on issues such as how to mobilize the necessary amount of resources, how to have the types of industrial policies that are necessary, the right macroeconomic framework, and the overall environment with the official development assistance and the trade access, which is also important.”