Landlocked Developing Countries Face Unique Hurdles for Growth

Developing countries are often characterized by deficiencies in institutional security, infrastructure, and market openness. Among such emerging states, Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) are set apart by their lack of direct access to the world’s oceans and seas. While landlocked European nations are on average 170 km away from the nearest port, their LLDC peers average nearly 1,370 km, placing them at a distinct disadvantage. The inability to access maritime transportation networks creates additional burdens that most developing countries do not have to face, including additional border crossings and significantly higher costs of doing business and transporting goods.

The plight of LLDCs is not, however, unknown to the international community. In November 2014, the United Nations held its Second Conference on LLDCs in Vienna, Austria. At the conclusion of the conference, the General Assembly adopted a 10 year action-plan for LLDCs, identifying six key priorities that need to be addressed in development efforts:

  • Fundamental transit policy issues
  • Infrastructure development and maintenance
  • International trade and trade facilitation
  • Regional integration and cooperation
  • Structural economic transformation
  • Means of implementation

These priorities may be boiled down into two major issues that need to be addressed vis-à-vis development in LLDCs: transportation infrastructure and trade relations between bordering countries.

While efficient and reliable transportation and logistics are important issues in all nations, they are essential in LLDCs. To date, only nine LLDCs have more than 50% of their roads paved. Recent research conducted by Paras Kharel (of the South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment) and Anil Belbase (of the Institute for Policy Research and Development) used data from the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index (LPI) to determine the correlation between LLDC logistics performance and exports. The LPI is determined on a scale of 1 to 5 “based on efficiency of customs clearance process, quality of trade- and transport-related infrastructure, ease of arranging competitively priced shipments, quality of logistics services, ability to track and trace consignments, and frequency with which shipments reach the consignee within the scheduled time.” Kharel and Belbase discovered that, all else being equal, a 1% increase in the LPI performance of LLDCs is associated with an average increase of exports by 2.84% – 3.27%. Similarly, a 1% increase on the LPI in transit nations (nations that lie between LLDCs and port access) is associated with a 1.1% – 1.2% average increase in LLDC exports, all else being equal. However, if LLDCs do not share positive relations with their neighbors, a relatively high LPI score is essentially meaningless.

A common thread between many LLDCs is a lack of positive diplomatic relationships with major neighbors. Ethiopia’s relationships with Eritrea and Somalia, for example, are frosty at best. Newly minted South Sudan shares most of its border with other landlocked nations and Sudan, from which it declared independence in 2011 after a long, bloody conflict. For meaningful and sustained development, improving relationships with border nations is essential in order to allow and obtain greater access to the world’s ports—and by extension the world’s markets. Many LLDCs, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, must use routes that go through more than one transit nation to reach a port. Encouraging trade agreements that knock down tariffs and nontariff barriers should be a priority.

The private sector and civil society can also play major roles in the process of developing LLDCs. Civil society and the private sector can help provide more intimate perspectives of ordinary people who live in LLDCs which can lead to more specific and productive policy recommendations tailored to each nation’s unique needs. Civil Society can also advocate for streamlining procedures and eliminating barriers in order to promote more robust FDI, an important cog in LLDC development. The UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that FDI is significantly more important for GDP growth and capital formation than in developing countries as a whole.

Figure 1. FDI stock as a percentage of GDP, 2004–2013 (Percent)

FDI Stock as a percentage of GDP

Source: UNCTAD, World Investment Report 2014

Figure 2. FDI inflows as a share of gross fixed capital formation, 2004–2013 (Percent)

FDI Inflows as a share of gross fixed capital formation

Source: UNCTAD, World Investment Report 2014

The report found that the share of FDI stock in GDP averages about 5% higher than in other developing countries. The report also found that “In terms of the ratio of FDI to gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) – one of the building blocks of development – FDI’s role was almost twice as high for LLDCs than for developing economies over the previous 10 years.”

As logistics performance, diplomatic relations with immediate neighbors, and engagement with the private sector and civil society improves, LLDCs will be enabled to overcome the unique barriers to development that they face.