COVID-19 pandemic: threats to SMEs in poorest nations require swift policy action

By Frank Hartwich and Jenny Larsen, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Factories around the world roared into action again in the second half of 2020, following the COVID-19-related slump that brought large parts of industrial production to a standstill in early 2020. The bounce back, led by Europe, China and other parts of Asia, has been faster than expected, with most of the losses felt in the first half of 2020 recovered by early 2021, although there are big differences between regions and sectors.

Using the limited data available, it appears that manufacturing in selected LDCs has also staged a recovery. UNIDO’s Index of Industrial Production (IIP) – only available for four of the 46 LDCs – showed a dramatic drop in the early part of 2020, followed by a sharp rise in early 2021, although a closer look at the data reveals a nuanced picture. Mozambique and Senegal saw little impact from the pandemic whereas in Bangladesh and Rwanda the effects were much stronger. In general, within low-tech industries which predominate in LDCs, the food industry benefitted from the pandemic while other sectors such as textiles, clothing and leather were hit particularly hard.

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Amid cyclones and COVID-19, Vanuatu makes bold decision to graduate from ‘least developed country’ category

By Violeta Gonzalez Behar, Head of Partnerships, Outreach and Resource Mobilisation, Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), World Trade Organization & Michelle Kovacevic, Communications Specialist and Consultant for EIF

Fresh fruit and vegetable market in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: Shutterstock

On 4 December 2020, Vanuatu shed its official classification as one of the world’s least developed countries (LDC). This significant milestone – called ‘graduation’ – is something that only five other countries have managed to achieve in the last 40 years. And Vanuatu’s graduation achievement may be the most impressive of all given that, over the past few years, not only has it has weathered significant economic and social fallout from repeated natural disasters, but also a major drop in tourism revenue due to border closures during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

At this time of exacerbated economic vulnerabilities, some have questioned whether this is the right time for Vanuatu to leave its LDC status behind. Indeed it is a courageous choice – on the surface it may seem that there is more to lose than gain from graduation. Graduating countries usually surrender international support measures earmarked for LDCs such as preferential market access, targeted multilateral aid funding, free legal advice and technical assistance from some United Nations agencies, as well as travel support to attend international UN meetings.

While the impact of losing international support measures will depend on what goods a country exports, the trade agreements it is part of, and other factors, the UN’s Committee for Development Policy’s (CDP) LDC graduation impact assessments have shown that the loss of these measures doesn’t actually make much of a practical difference.

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Building productive capacities can avert a lost decade in the poorest countries

By Dr. Perks Master Ligoya, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations and Mr. Paul Akiwumi, Director, Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes, UNCTAD

Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 4, 2020. Photo: Mamunur Rashid, Shatterstock

The COVID-19 crisis shook the very foundations of the international system, triggering an abrupt and severe global recession, which threatens to heighten economic contagion.While no country is spared, the coronavirus has hit the world’s poorest nations disproportionately.  

The 46 least developed countries (LDCs) were already  highly exposed due to weak healthcare services and their lower levels of socio-economic resilience. Despite relatively strong growth in LDCs prior to the outbreak, the effects of the crisis will reverse years of painstaking economic and social progress. The potential long-term impacts, including secondary and tertiary shocks, and spillover effects on production, job creation, household income, domestic finances and investment mean that LDCs will continue to rely on external financing to sustain their much-needed development.

However, the outlook for official development assistance (ODA) is bleak as donor countries focus on domestic economic stresses. High levels of informality, limited IT access and skills shortages, and fragile industrial sectors coupled with weak integration into global value chains also hamper the uptake of new technologies in LDCs.

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Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: why should it involve the excluded LDCs?

By Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)

The world’s largest trading bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was signed in November 2020, counting 15 Asian member countries. Should the excluded countries, more specifically the low income and least developed countries (LDCs) of Asia, be worried about this development?

In recent years, the number of regional trading arrangements of various types, dealing with trade in goods or services or both, has been on the rise. 305 regional trade arrangements are already in force and the World Trade Organisation has been notified of another 496 currently under negotiation. However, the RCEP stands out for several reasons. The ten original members of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) have now joined hands with five of the six countries with which ASEAN had bilateral free trade areas – China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India opted out at the last moment, but the door has been kept open.

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How can island states reimagine tourism for green recovery?

Riad Meddeb, Senior Principal Advisor for Small Island Developing States, UNDP


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide. This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Grenada’s Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park, Molinere Beauséjour Marine. Credit: Grenada Tourism Authority

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have experienced great success in expanding their tourism industries, particularly over the past 10 years. The industry is an economic lifeline and driver of development for many SIDS. Their rich biodiversity and beautiful ecosystems attracted around 44 million visitors in 2019. However, global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have devastated SIDS’ economies. Compared to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), export revenues from tourism represent about 9% of SIDS economies. In countries like St. Lucia and Palau, tourism revenues make up 98 and 88 percent of total exports respectively. It is a vital source of revenue for community livelihoods, disaster recovery, biodiversity and cultural heritage preservation.

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Lessons from LDCs’ responses to COVID-19: From crisis to opportunities?

By Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director, Enhanced Integrated Framework


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide. This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Least Developed Countries (LDCs)


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June 2020 : Staff members outside the Republican Hospital for Covid-19 Patients in Taiz, Yemen. Photo: Akramalrasny / Shutterstock.

Many least developed countries (LDCs) have not yet seen large numbers of COVID-19 cases – though there are notable exceptions such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sudan.

Yet, all LDCs are confronting severe economic disruptions – and a major fiscal squeeze – from the global demand shock, supply chain disruptions and, significantly reduced income from tourism and remittances. Domestic lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus present unique challenges in countries with high poverty rates in which large sections of the workforce are informally employed.

At the same time, crises can come with opportunities for positive change, and the present crisis might offer this for LDCs, to undertake much-needed reforms that would place them on firmer footing as economic recovery takes hold. A few LDCs have done just that, examples of which are below. Continue reading

Don’t put export bans on medical supplies during COVID-19. Why trade should flow freely to the world’s poorest countries

By Violeta Gonzalez Behar, Head, Partnerships, Outreach and Resource Mobilization, Enhanced Integrated Framework, World Trade Organization


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
This blog is also a part of a thread looking more specifically at the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).



export-medical-covid19-tradeWith coronavirus spreading fast and now present in 185 countries, the pandemic has already reached some of the world’s poorest countries. We are all familiar with the headlines pointing to a shortage of masks, ventilators, gloves, gowns and face shields across countries. Fear and hoarding is only magnifying scarcity.

Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the availability of medical supplies, it may be tempting for governments to save supplies for their own citizens. And this is exactly what is playing out at the global level. Currently there are over 80 curbs on exports of essential COVID-19 medical supplies and medicines that have been introduced by 76 nations this year.

The consequences of such actions are already visible in countries like Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Now imagine how life-threatening this could be in the poorest countries, an example being the Central African Republic, where there are only three ventilators in the entire country. Continue reading

Lessons learned from structural transformation in least developed countries

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By Daniel Gay[1], Inter-Regional Adviser on LDCs, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

To learn more about countries’ strategies for economic transformation, including a session on Least Developed Countries (LDCs), follow the 10th Plenary and High-Level Meeting of the OECD Initiative for Policy Dialogue on Global Value Chains, Production Transformation and Development in Paris, France on 27-28 June 2018 

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Bangladeshi garments workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shutterstock.com


At Leather Wings, a small shoe-making outfit based in central Kathmandu, four women sit in a small room cutting up bright red cowhide imported from India. Next door, a dozen of their colleagues stitch the shapes together on sewing machines. The owner Samrat Dahal says the boots, designed by a German expat, sell via the Internet in India, China and Italy.

The company, founded in 1985, sums up some of the issues facing the Nepalese economy: entrepreneurial leaders at the helm of a committed workforce making a competitive and quality product for which overseas demand is ample. The problem isn’t finding buyers; it’s scaling up production to meet that demand. Exports by the handful of players in Nepal’s shoe industry totalled only USD 23 million in 2015. The task of boosting production in Nepal is doubly pressing given that the country already meets the criteria to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) category, something that the government wants to happen as soon as 2022. Nepal’s productive capacity predicament is typical of many LDCs. Moving onto a path of long-term prosperity requires structural transformation that expands production via manufacturing, services and higher-productivity agriculture.

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Aid rising in 2016: No room for complacency

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair, OECD Development Assistance Committee
Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director, Development Co-operation Directorate, OECD

oda generic 22015 was a year of big promises: eradication of global poverty, delivery of more effective development finance and calls for resolute action against climate change, all for a better world by 2030. But with growing concerns about inequalities at home, and rising protectionism and unilateralism abroad, the last few months cast some doubts about whether OECD countries still firmly stand behind their commitments.

The latest OECD figures on international aid are reassuring: 2016 preliminary data on Official Development Assistance (ODA) provided by OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries reveals yet another increase in aid volumes, reaching the highest levels on record. This is an 8.9% increase in real terms. Indeed, since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, ODA volumes have more than doubled. It is also positive to note that support to multilateral agencies has increased, reflecting the vital role played by multilateral aid in responding to the global challenges that require collective responsibility.

Yet, there is no room for complacency. A closer scrutiny of the increases reveals that humanitarian appeals and response plans remain consistently underfunded, with only 60% of global humanitarian appeals funded in 2016. Inadequate resources are being over-stretched to cover a larger diversity of needs and greater instances of crisis. Continue reading