By  on July 17, 2009

GENEVA — The world’s 49 poorest countries have been hit hard by the global economic downturn, including the export-dependent apparel sectors in some nations, a United Nations report said Thursday.

The study forecasts the 49 nations will grow this year by only 2.7 percent, down from the 7.4 percent growth they averaged between 2003 and 2008. The slowdown forecast is 2.1 percent if Bangladesh, which accounts for about 25 percent of the total gross domestic product of the group of Least Developed Countries, is excluded.

The report, compiled by the U.N. Conference on Trade & Development, concludes that poor African nations are likely to be “more severely affected” than Asian counterparts such as Bangladesh, which have more diversified economies.

However, Charles Gore, head of research for undeveloped countries and the conference, told reporters the sharp reduction in external demand for low-skilled manufacturers like apparel is also affecting poor Asian countries. Gore said a recent analysis showed 51,000 jobs have been lost in Cambodian apparel factories, representing about 15 percent of the country’s garment workers.

He said the economy of Bangladesh has shown “more resilience,” which he attributed to concerted efforts to structurally transform the economy and enact reforms in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing and commercial services.

But the study said that even in Bangladesh, the sector faces “significant competition both from countries higher up the value chain with higher productivity and quality and better links with buyers, and also countries with lower wages that are aggressively seeking to enter the same markets.”

Overall, the report said African Least Developed Countries lag far behind their Asian counterparts and notes that manufacturing accounted for only 10.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, marginally more than the 9.8 percent averaged in the Seventies. By comparison, manufacturing in Asian undeveloped nations in 2007 contributed 15.7 percent of GDP, up from 10.9 percent in the Seventies.

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