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What does "their" refer to in the following sentence?

It was a vehicle for dealing with a number of fundamental problems confronting developing countries and exploring their relationship to the underlying trends in the international economy.

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  • As you see, grammatically there are two possible antecedents, "problems" and "countries", and so the decision must be based on the more likely meaning. Of the two, problems are more likely to be related to economic trends. Countries would be "affected by" trends in the international economy, not "related to" them.
    – TimR
    Jul 25, 2016 at 11:04

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On the basis of what seems to make most sense: the fundamental problems.

The writer could have said

exploring the relationship of those problems to the underlying ...

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