Representatives from the world’s least developed countries and UN experts drew a bleak picture of the impact of globalisation on poor communities at the start of a two-day conference here Monday.
"Paradoxically, as some countries get more integrated and prosperous, others get more marginalised and isolated," Harriet Schmidt, director of the UN Office for developing countries, told the gathering.
"This is the sad reality for the least developed countries (LDCs). While globalisation has, over the last 30 years, expanded trade, increased economic output and created unparalleled wealth in global terms, the LDCs have failed to reap its benefits," she added.
According to UN-set criteria, 50 countries qualify as the world’s least developed nations, compared to 25 in 1971.
Thirty-five are in Africa, 10 in Asia, five in Oceania and one in the Caribbean. Among them are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan and Mauritania.
They account for 12 percent of the world’s population, and attract less than two percent of global foreign direct investment, most of it in the sectors of oil and gas exploration and mining.
The picture is even worse in trade: the share of LDCs in world exports fell from 3.0 percent in the 1950s to 0.7 percent in the 2000s while their share in agricultural exports dropped from 3.3 percent in the 1970s to 1.5 percent in the 1990s.
"If the global force of globalisation continues on the path of the last 30 years, it will completely sweep away the LDCs," Schmidt said.
Documents drawn up by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) list domestic factors such as illiteracy, lack of infrastructure, urban explosion and desertification that have prevented LDCs from taking advantage of globalization.
But several officials addressing the conference, sometimes in a bitter tone, argued that the system of globalisation should be completely reshaped.
Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa said globalization was created and managed by the countries that won World War II.
"The result has been to strengthen the economic and geopolitical dominance of the north and safeguard its corporate interests," he said.
"I have become less convinced that the international community, particularly the rich industrialised world, is serious and committed to delivering their promises... to support the development of the poorer populations of humanity."
UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis underlined that there had been "very slow if not null" progress in the welfare levels of the world’s poorest nations.
"It is frustrating to see those who praise free trade and the liberal market sometimes take the most drastic protectionist measures that completely... cut down the opportunities for developing countries," he said.
He argued that a more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation implied an "overall reform of the international architecture".
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul also urged the international community to act.
"We must redress the imbalances of the international economic system. In some cases, that requires financial resources. In many others, what is needed is a political will that responds to the concerns of the least developed countries," he said.
Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, the President of the UN general assembly, predicted that LDCs were unlikely to achieve international development goals set out for 2010.
Among the goals, adopted in 2001, are accelerating sustained economic growth and development, eradicating poverty and inequality, increasing partnership between least developed countries