Which states are landlocked?

Without a port - isolated and underdeveloped


Go to the sea and watch the waves break on the coast. In order to fulfill this dream, the residents of 45 countries have to cross at least one international border. These countries are so-called landlocked countries, i.e. countries without direct access to the great oceans. Their borders are completely enclosed by the land mass of their neighboring states.

In the case of Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein, the neighboring countries are again landlocked, which is why these two are considered the only double landlocked countries in the world. A few countries can partially compensate for this disadvantage with their right to navigate international rivers that flow into the world's oceans - but the majority cannot, also because rivers are usually much too small for large container ships anyway.

Nevertheless, the number 45 is by no means to be understood as rigid. The number of landlocked states fluctuates almost to the same extent that international borders shift regularly due to the most varied of geopolitical developments. The fundamental trend towards more nation states caused the number of landlocked states to increase, especially in the last few decades.

As a result of the declarations of independence for example Eritrea from Ethiopia (1993), Montenegro from Serbia (2006) or the secession of South Sudan from Sudan (2011), Ethiopia, Serbia and South Sudan only recently lost their direct access to the sea.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea war at the end of the 20th century confirmed that such developments do harbor potential for conflict. Ethiopia's desire for direct access to the sea and greater economic and military independence have always been one of the reasons for the tense relationship between the two countries. There are many comparable cases in recent world history.

The port as a gateway to the world
If there were global free trade, every state could import and export its goods free of trade barriers. It would then no longer be a disadvantage in this respect to be a landlocked country. So far, however, this wish of the advocates of globalization has remained unfulfilled, which explains the longing of landlocked states for direct access to the seas. Apart from the tourist, military and commercial uses of the coastal waters, ports in particular play a decisive role in international trade. In peacetime, they provide a safe and efficient transshipment point for exports to and imports from distant countries.

In addition to trading goods, in the past ports were primarily a contact point for ideas and technological and institutional innovations from other regions. Fabrizio Carmignani from Griffith University in Australia calculated that, for example, the landlocked state of Bolivia lost a fifth of its potential gross domestic product due to its coastal loss as a result of the Saltpeter War at the end of the 19th century.

Contrary to popular belief, however, Carmignani found that landlocked countries did not suffer directly from the negative effects of increased trade. Rather, it is an indirect consequence of weak institutions. The inaccessible location of landlocked states in Africa, for example, often caused colonial powers to neglect institutional progress in these regions. Instead, they focused on exploiting the local resources. Coupled with a lack of intercultural exchange and a lack of innovation, this had a devastating effect on development.

A lack of innovation affects trade and development
Especially in Africa, where most of the landlocked countries, namely 16, are located, the devastating economic consequences of isolation can be seen. In comparison, the gross domestic product of African coastal states is on average 40 percent higher than that of comparable landlocked states.

In the Human Development Index (HDI) of 2016, an indicator of prosperity for states, five African landlocked countries came last with the Central African Republic, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Burundi. This situation is due to the additional logistical costs and trade barriers caused by onward transport on land. According to the World Bank, traders in landlocked Central Asian and African countries are faced with at least three significant transit and clearance hurdles.

In addition to the customs clearance in the port and the final acceptance in the destination city, the interim crossing of the international border is a major factor of uncertainty. Long waiting times put off potential investors as well as the additional costs of crossing the border. Building roadblocks and demanding bribes from authorities or criminal gangs is still common today at many international borders.

The European model as a way out?
The only highly developed (HDI Top 50) landlocked countries in the world are in Europe. The question arises as to whether these could serve as models for landlocked states in other regions. In fact, the European representatives from the highest development category are all EU countries or - like Switzerland - closely associated with their economic and trade institutions.

In addition, the most successful countries, such as Switzerland and Luxembourg, specialize in finance, the goods of which cross international borders effortlessly, now mostly digitally, in milliseconds. Even conventional products can be traded much more easily and cheaply thanks to the free movement of goods within the EU.

The European model would therefore be an example of the urgently needed institutional integration that could also bring the necessary economic upswing in landlocked countries in Africa, Central Asia or South America. Due to its complexity and decades of preparatory phase, this will remain a pure utopia for several generations, even if projects such as the international freight and passenger train route between the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the port in Djibouti have given hope in the meantime.

The Almaty Action Program of 2003, decided at a United Nations conference on the special needs of landlocked states, attempted to counter the infrastructural trade deficits of landlocked states through funding programs for the dismantling of trade barriers. The World Bank and many countries hopefully invested large sums in these programs.

Carmignani's study now questions the approach. He advocates more complex and comprehensive programmatic approaches to address the fundamental economic problem of landlocked countries: their institutional weakness. Eleven years after the Almaty Conference in 2014, a second special conference on landlocked states in Vienna highlighted and criticized their sluggish progress. Even if the new action program should be more comprehensive and inclusive, measures to strengthen the institutions will again only play a subordinate role.

This article appeared in the sixth issue of KATAPULT. Subscribe to the printed magazine. This is convenient for you and supports our work.

[1] Cf. Carmignani, Fabrizio: The Curse of Being Landlocked: Institutions Rather than Trade, in: The World Economy, Oxford (38) 2015, no. 10, pp. 1594-1617.
[2] See above: The economics of landlocked countries. Interiors. Why it's better to have a coastline, on: economist.com (9.5.2015).
[3] The human development index is an indicator of prosperity for states and is published by the UN.
[4] See United Nations Development Program (ed.): Human Development Report 2016, New York 2016.
[5] See O.A .: Landlocked Countries: Higher Transport Costs, Delays, Less Trade, on: worldbank.org (June 16, 2008).
[6] The project, which has been excessively subsidized and implemented by China, ultimately combats the symptoms of the domestic innovation trap rather than its institutional reasons.
[7] United Nations: Almaty Declaration, A / CONF.202 / L.2.
[8] United Nations: Vienna Program of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries for the Decade 2014-2024, A / CONF.225 / L.1.