United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development logo.svg
Formation30 December 1964 (1964-12-30)
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
Rebeca Grynspan
Parent organization
United Nations General Assembly
United Nations Secretariat
The Headquarters of the UNCTAD are located at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was established in 1964 as an intergovernmental organization intended to promote the interests of developing states in world trade.[1]

UNCTAD is the part of the United Nations Secretariat dealing with trade, investment, and development issues. The organization's goals are to: "maximize the trade, investment and development opportunities of developing countries and assist them in their efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis". UNCTAD was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964 and it reports to the UN General Assembly and United Nations Economic and Social Council.[2]

The primary objective of UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology. The conference ordinarily meets once in four years; the permanent secretariat is in Geneva.

One of the principal achievements of UNCTAD (1964) has been to conceive and implement the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). It was argued in UNCTAD that to promote exports of manufactured goods from developing countries, it would be necessary to offer special tariff concessions to such exports. Accepting this argument, the developed countries formulated the GSP scheme under which manufacturers' exports and import of some agricultural goods from the developing countries enter duty-free or at reduced rates in the developed countries. Since imports of such items from other developed countries are subject to the normal rates of duties, imports of the same items from developing countries would enjoy a competitive advantage.

The creation of UNCTAD in 1964 was based on concerns of developing countries over the international market, multi-national corporations, and great disparity between developed nations and developing nations. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was established to provide a forum where the developing countries could discuss the problems relating to their economic development. The organisation grew from the view that existing institutions like GATT (now replaced by the World Trade Organization, WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank were not properly organized to handle the particular problems of developing countries. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, UNCTAD was closely associated with the idea of a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

The first UNCTAD conference took place in Geneva in 1964, the second in New Delhi in 1968, the third in Santiago in 1972, fourth in Nairobi in 1976, the fifth in Manila in 1979, the sixth in Belgrade in 1983, the seventh in Geneva in 1987, the eighth in Cartagena in 1992, the ninth at Johannesburg (South Africa) in 1996, the tenth in Bangkok (Thailand) in 2000, the eleventh in São Paulo (Brazil) in 2004, the twelfth in Accra in 2008, the thirteenth in Doha (Qatar) in 2012 and the fourteenth in Nairobi (Kenya) in 2016. The fifteenth session was planned to be held in Bridgetown (Barbados) from 3–8 October 2021, but due to the pandemic was mostly held online.

Currently, UNCTAD has 195 member states and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. UNCTAD has 400 staff members and a bi-annual (2010–2011) regular budget of $138 million in core expenditures and $72 million in extra-budgetary technical assistance funds. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group.[3] There are non-governmental organizations participating in the activities of UNCTAD.[4]


  UNCTAD Members
  UNCTAD Members at the Trade and Development Board
  Members, List A
  Members, List B
  Members, List C
  Members, List D
  Members, to be assigned

As of May 2018, 195 states are UNCTAD members:[5] all UN members plus UN observer states Palestine and the Holy See. UNCTAD members are divided into four lists, the division being based on United Nations Regional Groups[5] with six members unassigned: Kiribati, Nauru, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Tuvalu. List A consists mostly of countries in the African and Asia-Pacific Groups of the UN. List B consists of countries of the Western European and Others Group. List C consists of countries of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC). List D consists of countries of the Eastern European Group.

The lists, originally defined in 19th General Assembly resolution 1995[6] serve to balance geographical distribution of member states' representation on the Trade Development Board and other UNCTAD structures. The lists are similar to those of UNIDO, an UN specialized agency.

The most recent member is Palestine[7]

The full lists are as follows:

List A (99 members): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
List B (32 members): Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.
List C (33 members): Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela.
List D (24 members): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
Not assigned countries (6 members): Kiribati, Nauru, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Tuvalu.

Other states that do not participate are Cook Islands, Niue, and the states with limited recognition.


The inter-governmental work is done at five levels of meetings:

  • The UNCTAD Conference – held every four years:
UNCTAD XVBridgetown Barbados3-8 October 2021[8][9]
UNCTAD XIVNairobi Kenya17–22 July 2016[10]
UNCTAD XIIIDoha Qatar21–26 April 2012[11]
UNCTAD XIIAccra Ghana21–25 April 2008[12]
UNCTAD XISão Paulo Brazil13–18 June 2004[13]
UNCTAD XBangkok Thailand12–19 February 2000[14]
UNCTAD IXMidrand South Africa27 April – 11 May 1996
UNCTAD VIIICartagena Colombia8–25 February 1992
UNCTAD VIIGeneva  Switzerland8 Jul-3 Aug 1987
UNCTAD VIBelgrade Yugoslavia6–30 Jun 1983
UNCTAD VManila Philippines7 May-3 Jun 1979
UNCTAD IVNairobi Kenya5–31 May 1976
UNCTAD IIISantiago Chile13 Apr-21 May 1972
UNCTAD IINew Delhi India31 Jan-29 Mar 1968
UNCTAD IGeneva  Switzerland23 Mar-16 Jun 1964
  • The UNCTAD Trade and Development Board – the board manages the work of UNCTAD between two conferences and meets up to three times every year;
  • Four UNCTAD Commissions and one Working Party – these meet more often than the board to take up policy, programme and budgetary issues;
  • Expert Meetings – the commissions will convene expert meetings on selected topics to provide substantive and expert input for Commission policy discussions.

The 15th quadrennial meeting is scheduled to take place in Bridgetown, Barbados, from 25 to 30 April 2021.[15]

Geneva, 1964

In response to developing country (Least Developed Country, LDC) anxiety at their worsening position in world trade, the United Nations General Assembly voted for a 'one off' conference. These early discussions paved the way for new IMF facilities to provide finance for shortfalls in commodity earnings and for the Generalised Preference Schemes which increased access to Northern markets for manufactured imports from the South. At Geneva, the LDCs were successful in their proposal for the conference with its secretariat to become a permanent organ of the UN, with meetings every four years.[16] At the Geneva meeting, Raul Prebisch—a prominent Argentinian economist from the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLA)—became the organization's first secretary-general.[17]

New Delhi, 1968

The New Delhi Conference, held in February and March 1968, was a forum that allowed developing countries to reach agreement on basic principles of their development policies. The conference in New Delhi was an opportunity for schemes to be finally approved. The conference provided a major impetus in persuading the North to follow up UNCTAD I resolutions, in establishing generalised preferences. The target for private and official flows to LDCs was raised to 1% of the North's GNP, but the developed countries failed to commit themselves to achieving the target by a specific date. This has proven a continuing point of debate at UNCTAD conferences.

The conference led to the International Sugar Agreement, which seeks to stabilize world sugar prices.[16][18]

Santiago, 1972

The Santiago Conference, 15 April 1972, was the third occasion on which the developing countries have confronted the rich with the need to use trade and aid measures more effectively to improve living standards in the developing world. Discussion centred on the international monetary system and specifically on the South's proposal that a higher proportion of new special drawing rights (SDRs) should be allocated to LDCs as a form of aid (the so-called 'link'). In Santiago, substantial disagreements arose within the Group of 77 (G77) despite preconference meetings. There was disagreement over the SDR proposal and between those in the G77 who wanted fundamental changes such as a change in the voting allocations in the South's favour at the IMF and those (mainly the Latin American countries) who wanted much milder reforms. This internal dissent seriously weakened the group's negotiating position and led to a final agreed motion which recommended that the IMF should examine the link and that further research be conducted into general reforms. This avoided firm commitments to act on the 'link' or general reform, and the motion was passed by conference.[16][19]

Nairobi, 1976 and Manila, 1979

UNCTAD IV, held in Nairobi May 1976, showed relative success compared to its predecessors. An Overseas Development Institute briefing paper of April 1979 highlights one reason for success as being down to the 1973 Oil Crisis and the encouragement of LDCs to make gains through producers of other commodities. The principal result of the conference was the adoption of the Integrated Programme for Commodities. The programme covered the principal commodity exports and its objectives aside from the stabilisation of commodity prices were: "Just and remunerative pricing, taking into account world inflation", the expansion of processing, distribution and control of technology by LDCs and improved access to markets.[20][21]

UNCTAD V in the wake of the Nairobi Conference, held in Manila 1979 focused on the key issues of: protectionism in developing countries and the need for structural change, trade in commodities and manufactures aid and international monetary reform, technology, shipping, and economic co-operation among developing countries. An Overseas Development Institute briefing paper written in 1979 focuses its attention on the key issues regarding the LDCs' role as the Group of 77 in the international community.[22]

Belgrade, 1983

The sixth UN conference on trade and development in Belgrade, 6–30 June 1983 was held against the background of earlier UNCTADs which have substantially failed to resolve many of the disagreements between the developed and developing countries and of a world economy in its worst recession since the early 1930s. The key issues of the time were finance and adjustment, commodity price stabilisation and trade.[16]

Bridgetown, Barbados 2021

The fifteenth session of UNCTAD was originally scheduled in 2020 but was delayed until 2021 due to COVID-19. This is the first time that the UNCTAD is held in a small island developing state (SIDS).


UNCTAD produces a number of topical reports, including:

  • The Trade and Development Report[23]
  • The Trade and Environment Review[24]
  • The World Investment Report[25]
  • The Economic Development in Africa Report[26]
  • The Least Developed Countries Report[27]
  • UNCTAD Statistics[28]
  • Digital Economy Report (formerly known as the Information Economy Report)[29]
  • The Review of Maritime Transport[30]
  • The International Accounting and Reporting Issues Annual Review[31]
  • The Technology and Innovation Report[32]


UNCTAD conducts technical cooperation programmes[33] such as ASYCUDA, DMFAS, EMPRETEC[34] and WAIPA.

In addition, UNCTAD conducts certain technical cooperation in collaboration with the World Trade Organization through the joint International Trade Centre (ITC), a technical cooperation agency targeting operational and enterprise-oriented aspects of trade development.

UNCTAD hosts the Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR).[31]

Partnership initiatives

UNCTAD is a founding member of the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative along with the Principles for Responsible Investment, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP-FI), and the UN Global Compact.

List of Secretaries-General and Officers-in-Charge

NrSecretary-GeneralDates in officeCountry of originRemarks
1Raúl Prebisch1963–1969 Argentina
2Manuel Pérez-Guerrero1969–1974 Venezuela
3Gamani Corea1974–1984 Sri Lanka
4Alister McIntyre1985 GrenadaOfficer-in-Charge
5Kenneth K.S. Dadzie1986–1994 Ghana
6Carlos Fortin1994–1995 ChileOfficer-in-Charge
7Rubens Ricupero1995–2004 Brazil
8Carlos Fortin2004–2005 ChileOfficer-in-Charge
9Supachai Panitchpakdi1 September 2005 – 30 August 2013 Thailand
10Mukhisa Kituyi1 September 2013 – 15 February 2021 Kenya
11Isabelle Durant15 February 2021 – 11 June 2021 BelgiumOfficer-in-Charge
12Rebeca GrynspanSince 11 June 2021 Costa Rica

See also



  1. ^ Oatley, Thomas (2019). International Political Economy: Sixth Edition. Routledge. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-351-03464-7.
  2. ^ "About UNCTAD | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ http://unctad.org/en/docs/tdngolistd12_en.pdf
  5. ^ a b "Membership of UNCTAD and membership of the Trade and Development Board" (PDF). unctad.org.
  6. ^ "A/RES/1995(XIX) - E - A/RES/1995(XIX) -Desktop". undocs.org.
  7. ^ "Palestinians join 2 UN agencies, chemical weapons pact", Ynetnews, 24 May 2018
  8. ^ "Fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15) | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  9. ^ "UNCTAD 15 Barbados - DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TRADE". UNCTAD 15 Barbados.
  10. ^ http://unctad14.org/ UNCTAD 14 Home Page
  11. ^ "Home | UNCTAD". www.unctadxiii.org. Archived from the original on 30 September 2018. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 August 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 March 2004. Retrieved 26 March 2004.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ UNCTAD, Fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15), accessed 27 October 2020
  16. ^ a b c d "UNCTAD VI: background and issues". ODI Briefing Paper. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  17. ^ "History". United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
  18. ^ "The UN Conference on Trade and Development". ODI Briefing Paper 1. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  19. ^ "ODI Briefing Paper". UNCTAD III, problems and prospects. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  20. ^ "UNCTAD 5: A preview of the issues". ODI briefing paper No.2 1979. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  21. ^ "UNCTAd VI: background and issues". ODI Briefing Paper. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  22. ^ "UNCTAD: A preview of the issues". ODI briefing paper 1979. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  23. ^ "Publications | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 1 July 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "unctad.org – Home". unctad.org.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 January 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ "The least developed countries report | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  28. ^ http://unctad.org/stats
  29. ^ "Digital economy report | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 1 July 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 7 January 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ "unctad.org – Technology and Innovation Report (Series)". unctad.org.
  33. ^ "Formal requests for UNCTAD technical cooperation | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  34. ^ "Empretec Women in Business Awards 2018 – World Investment Forum – UNCTAD". worldinvestmentforum.unctad.org. Retrieved 29 November 2018.

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