Annex A. The least developed country category: criteria for inclusion and graduation

The United Nations classification of least developed countries (LDCs) currently encompasses 47 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, the Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen and Zambia (UN, 2018[1]).

LDC status and progress are reviewed every three years by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP), a subsidiary body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The CDP uses the following three criteria to monitor the LDCs:

  • gross national income (GNI) per capita (three-year average), with a threshold for inclusion in the LDC list of USD 1,025 and a threshold for LDC graduation of USD 1,230;

  • a human assets index, composed of three health indicators (under-five mortality rate, percentage of population undernourished and maternal mortality rate) and two education indicators (gross secondary school enrolment ratio and adult literacy rate), with the LDC inclusion threshold set at 60 and the LDC graduation threshold at 66;

  • an economic vulnerability index (to be renamed the economic and environmental vulnerability index), composed of eight indicators: (i) share of agriculture, forestry and fishing to GDP; (ii) remoteness and extent of being landlocked; (iii) merchandise export concentration; (iv) instability of exports of goods and services; (v) share of population in low elevated coastal zones; (vi) share of population living in drylands; (vii) instability of agricultural production; and (viii) victims of natural disasters. The LDC inclusion threshold is set at 36 and the LDC graduation threshold at 32 (UN, 2018[2]).

A country is recommended by the CDP for graduation from LDC status if it has met graduation thresholds for at least two of the three criteria at two successive triennial reviews. However, a country with the three-year average per-capita GNI sustainably above twice the normal graduation threshold may be recommended for graduation even if it does not meet the graduation threshold for either of the two other criteria.

Since the LDC category was introduced and the first group of LDCs was listed by the United Nations in 1971, only five countries have graduated from the LDC status: Botswana in 1994, Cabo Verde in 2007, Maldives in 2011, Samoa in 2014 and Equatorial Guinea in 2017. The CDP last conducted a triennial review of the list of LDCs in 2018, when it found that Bhutan, Sao Tome and Príncipe and Solomon Islands were eligible for graduation for the second consecutive time and recommended them for graduation from the list.

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