Burma Retains Least-Developed Country Designation

By Nobel Zaw 2 December 2014

RANGOON — The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced on Monday that Burma will remain on its list of least-developed countries, frustrating official efforts to shed the ignominious title as soon as next year.

Igor Bosc, senior program advisor of UNCTAD, told The Irrawaddy that Burma would need more fundamental reform to emerge from the least-developed country list.

“In order to improve across all economic benchmarks and deliver benefits for people, more fundamental strategic change is needed,” he said. “It will take some time but it is possible for Burma to graduate [from least-developed country status].”

There remain significant hurdles to Burma’s graduation from least-developed country status, 27 years after the country officially accepted the designation in the wake of economic stagnation, abortive reforms to the agricultural sector and a disastrous demonetization policy.

Figures from the UNCTAD report on least developed countries for 2014 conclude that Burma must substantially raise its gross national income per capita or reduce the vulnerability of its populace to economic shocks to graduate from the designation.

There are currently 48 countries on the least-developed country list, including Burma’s regional neighbors Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal and Timor-Leste.

Burma’s gross national income per capita was US$994 in 2014, the lowest in the region after Cambodia and Bangladesh.
Under the criteria established by the United Nations, Burma can graduate from least-developed status if gross national income rises to US$1190 per capita, or by reducing its Economic Vulnerability Index score, a composite measure of agricultural and export sector stability, vulnerability to natural disasters and protection from economic shocks.

Vice President Nyan Tun has been tasked with expediting Burma’s graduation from its least-developed country designation. According to a report in the state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar on Nov. 21, Nyan Tun told a meeting that government committees were working in partnership with the United Nations and international NGOs to lift the country out of least-developed status in 2015.

Only four countries have graduated from least-developed status since the designation came into use in 1971, including Botswana, Cape Verde, the Maldives and Samoa. Once a country is identified as a candidate to graduate from least-developed country status, the United Nations typically grants a three-year grace period before graduation takes effect.

Despite Burma’s hopes to move away from least-developed country status in 2015, the UNCTAD report has identified Angola and Kiribati as the most likely candidates for graduation next year.

Dr. Maung Maung Lay, vice president of Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told The Irrawaddy that Burma is on the road to economic development but will retain the least-developed country designation for the foreseeable future.

“The time between when we started efforts to come out of the least-developed countries list and when we actually come out will be at least 10 years,” he said. “We cannot come out immediately and we have to move gradually.”