Connectivity is paramount for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). In his famous book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that specialization is the key to productivity gains. In order for these gains to materialize, however, access to markets and the development of trade have to be ensured. Most LLDCs face long economic distances to markets, a challenging geography, dilapidated infrastructure, and restrictive regulatory environments. This has resulted in inflated transportation costs and has contributed to their continued poverty relative to their coastal neighbors.
In order to address these challenges, a ministerial intergovernmental conference was convened in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2003, leading to the adoption of the Almaty Programme of Action (APoA ). The Programme calls for joint efforts by landlocked and transit developing countries— with substantial technical and financial assistance from partners— to establish a new global framework for developing efficient transit transport systems. The aim is to overcome the specific problems of the LLDCs that result from their lack of territorial access to the sea and their remoteness and isolation from world markets.
We have now almost reached the Programme’s 10-year milestone and, in preparation for the comprehensive 10-Year Review Conference on the implementation of the APoA, in 2014, the World Bank and the United Nations jointly held a preparatory meeting on June 13.
In a lively full-day event the participants, mostly diplomats representing LLDCs and transit countries’ missions in New York or Washington, DC, but also high-ranking officials from Bolivia and Kyrgyzstan, took stock of the overall progress made in transport and trade facilitation and shared achievements, lessons learned, and best practices.
And progress has certainly been achieved, as can be seen from the brochure prepared for the meeting and the presentations given during the event, which can be downloaded here .
What we noticed and wanted to share with you does not primarily concern the dry figures  - number of infrastructure kilometers rehabilitated, trade volumes or amounts lent or granted by the World Bank - but more how people’s mindset has changed since the meeting in Almaty in 2003, which Virginia and Marc had the privilege to attend.
Initially, the “Almaty process” focused exclusively on LLDCs and aimed at forging partnerships to overcome their specific problems. Transit countries became involved because they were concerned about a possible weakening of their sovereign rights to allow the passage of foreign goods, passengers, and means of transport through their territories. At that time, the discussions were rather impersonal and the requests for assistance quite generic.
Ten years later, the ambassadors and diplomats from LLDCs who came to Washington seemed to have fully taken on an identity as a group and developed a deep awareness of what they themselves can contribute to solving their countries’ landlockedness. Moreover, the transit developing countries have realized the benefits to be gained from well-managed transit arrangements, both in terms of regional integration and stability and in direct additional economic activities, and they now feel fully part of the solution.
While the event last week was not about negotiating new projects or lending, both LLDCs and transit countries’ representatives reiterated their need for all the World Bank can bring them in the form of financial support and technical assistance.
Participants recognized that there has been significant progress in transport development and trade facilitation during the last decade, but there is still a long way to go in achieving connectivity in a coherent and consistent way. Infrastructure remains a priority, of course, but deeper regional integration (including the establishment of transit regimes), improved partnerships, better operational performance of services and capacity enhancement were also mentioned as crucial for achieving effective connectivity in LLDCs.
With many of the original aims of APoA still valid, where else than in LLDCs would be best for us to strive to achieve the World Bank Group’s two major goals: to end extreme poverty and to promote shared prosperity?