I'm curious about phrase

"A existed as B (adverb or adjective) as C years ago"

or more specifically,

"A existed as little as C years ago"

The original sentence is like the below.

Active stock markets now exist and attract foreign investments in many cities where the concept of foreign private investment through a regulated public market barely existed as little as twenty years ago.


"A existed as little as C years ago"

has the meaning:

A existed C years ago, and C years is very little time.

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