United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Conférence des Nations Unies sur le commerce et le développement (CNUCED)
Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre Comercio y Desarrollo (UNCTAD)

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30 Dec 1964, Geneva (Switzerland), under General Assembly resolution 1995 (XIX), as a permanent organ of the United Nations (UN), following 1st Session, 23 Mar-16 June 1964; linked to United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) within United Nations System. Based at United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).


Provide a forum for discussion to consider development strategies and policies in a globalized world economy; give special attention to analysing, exchanging and drawing lessons from successful developmental experience. In analytical and deliberative work, focus on: globalization and development; international trade in goods and services; commodity issues; investment, enterprise development and technology; service infrastructure for development and trade efficiency.

Future Events

2020 Geneva, Switzerland – Session

2020 Geneva, Switzerland – Annual Accounting Workshop

2020 Geneva, Switzerland – Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development

2020 Geneva, Switzerland – Session

2020 Geneva, Switzerland – E-Commerce week

Past Events(11)

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Main activities:

 • 'Commodity diversification and development' - Promotes the diversification of production and trade structures; helps Governments to formulate and implement diversification policies and encourages enterprises to adapt their business strategies and become more competitive in the world market.

 • 'Competition and consumer policies' - Provides analysis and capacity building in competition and consumer protection laws and policies in developing countries; publishes regular updates of a Model Law on Competition.

 • 'Trade Negotiations and Commercial Diplomacy' - Assists developing countries in all aspects of their trade negotiations.

 • 'Trade Analysis and Information System (TRAINS)' - Comprehensive computer-based information system on trade control measures that uses UNCTAD's database.

 • 'Trade and environment' - Assesses the trade and development impact of environmental requirements and relevant multilateral agreements and provides capacity-building activities to help developing countries participate in and derive benefits from international negotiations on these matters.

'Evolution of UNCTAD':

UNCTAD has helped to forge new perceptions, concepts, approaches and action on issues of international economic cooperation. Its early years were marked by high rates of trade and economic growth, particularly in developed countries, worsening terms of trade for developing country commodity exports and an increasing income gap between them and the developed countries. Recognition of these factors led to consensus on needs to increase financial flows to developing countries, strengthen and stabilize commodity markets and support developing countries' participation in world trade. The specific actions agreed at UNCTAD I in 1964, at UNCTAD II in 1968 and at UNCTAD III in 1972 reflected this consensus.

Negotiations under UNCTAD auspices in the 1970s led to significant decisions to deal with the adverse consequences for the trade and economic development of developing countries resulting from erosion of the multilateral trading system and slowdown in world economic growth. These included: Integrated Programme for Commodities (IPC) to stabilize the commodity market; Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), giving preferential treatment for the exports of developing countries. UNCTAD VII, 1987, focused on revitalization of development, growth and international trade in response to difficult world economic situation in particular for developing countries, with tension between demand for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and requirements of states using UNCTAD as a forum for negotiations. The Conference dealt with the issues facing the world economy and with policies and measures required to address them, leading to new prospects for action on multilateral cooperation for development. UNCTAD VIII, 1992, faced the huge political and economic changes since the previous Conference and the need for further action to support the international trade and economic development of developing countries. The concept of development evolved from a narrow focus on economic growth and capital accumulation to a multidimensional, people-centred process in which the aim of economic and social policy is to improve conditions for individuals. Recognizing the urgency of making the international trading and financial systems more responsive to the needs of economic growth and development, with emphasis on economic interdependence and shared responsibility for supportive action by of all countries, UNCTAD VIII adopted the Cartagena Commitment, pledging a New Partnership for Development, giving priority to development as a means of securing economic, social and human security and affirming UNCTAD as the focal point for facilitating and implementing the new development consensus. Greater recognition was given to the need for improved policy coordination, the importance of links between the external environment and domestic policies and the contribution of public and private sectors. UNCTAD VIII also undertook far-reaching reforms of UNCTAD's intergovernmental machinery and methods of work. UNCTAD IX, 1996, reaffirmed UNCTAD's role as focal point within the United Nations for integrated treatment of development and interrelated issues in trade, finance, technology, investment and sustainable development. Member states agreed that UNCTAD should continue to facilitate the integration of developing countries and countries in transition into the international trading system, complementing the work of the WTO, and to promote development through trade and investment in cooperation and coordination with International Trade Centre (ITC) and with relevant institutions of the United Nations system and other international organizations.

UNCTAD X, 2000, included participation of civil society and keynote speakers from major international organizations for the first time, in a series of interactive debates. It made a number of recommendations for all countries to benefit from globalization, including increased policy coherence at national and international level and more effective cooperation and coordination among multilateral institutions, and for furthering UNCTAD's capacity-building activities tailored to needs of developing countries. UNCTAD was confirmed as a knowledge-based institution and forum for discussion and consensus building.

'Main Achievements':

- A number of international commodity agreements, or commodity study groups involving producing and consuming countries.

- Adoption of the generalized system of preferences (GSP), involving tariff concessions granted by the developed countries to the developing ones (1971).

- A resolution on retroactive adjustment of terms of the official development assistance debt of low-income developing countries (1978).

- Guidelines for international action in the area of debt rescheduling (1980).

- Set of principles and rules for the control of restrictive business practices (1980), (the Set is the only universally applicable international instrument on competition policy).

- Establishment of the Common Fund for Commodities to facilitate the financing of commodity agreements and support research and development activities for individual commodities (1989).

- Agreement on a Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP), in force 19 Apr 1989.

- Conventions in the area of maritime transport: Convention on a Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences; United Nations Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods; United Nations Convention on Conditions for Registration of Ships; United Nations Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages.

- Global Trade Point Network (GTPN) launched in 1994 as a result of the United Nations International Symposium on Trade Efficiency.

- Action in favour of the least developed countries, including organization of 3 United Nations Conferences on the Least Developed Countries: 1981, Paris (France), which adopted the Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980s for the Least Developed Countries (SNPA), defining the measures to be taken by these countries to promote their own development together with international support; 1990, Paris, which reviewed the implementation of the SNPA and adopted a strengthened Programme of Action, which the LDCs and their developed partners undertook to implement through the 1990s; 2001, Brussels (Belgium), adopted a programme of action for the next decade that addresses development assistance, debt cancellation, and private investment in the 49 LDCs.

'Technical Cooperation Programme': supports UNCTAD's policy-oriented work and is an important element in its overall effort to focus on practical assistance to developing countries. It aims to help governments create the necessary enabling environment for development and to strengthen their ability to participate fully in the world economy, particularly in international trade and investment. Funding for UNCTAD's technical cooperation is provided principally by individual donor countries, UNDP and the Programme Budget of the UN.

UNCTAD currently implements about 300 projects for an annual delivery of approximately US$ 25 million. Although all regions participate in the programmes, particular attention is paid to the dramatic needs of Africa and of the least developed, land-locked and island developing countries. Projects are implemented in the areas of: international trade; sustainable development; financial resources; investment, technology and enterprise development; transport.

'Examples of activities':

- Technical support to the Intergovernmental Group of 24 in order to strengthen its efforts to build the capacity of developing countries needed for them to make meaningful contributions to the design of the international monetary and financial system and improve their ability to cope with the consequences of interdependence.

- ITC/UNCTAD/WTO Integrated Programme of Technical Assistance for Africa, a tripartite programme whose objective is to enhance the development prospects and competitiveness of African countries through increased participation in international trade. It emphasizes human resources development and institutional capacity-building as well as the strengthening of export supply capabilities.

- Technical assistance on issues relating to the multilateral trading system, the major focus being: capacity-building in trade policy formulation and implementation; identification and treatment of current and pending international and trade issues; assistance to countries acceding to WTO.

- Helping developing countries and countries in transition to participate effectively in discussions on a possible multilateral framework on investment training and advising them on building national capacity in this area.

- Exchange of best practices in investment promotion and formulation of investment policies and strengthening of related institutional machinery.

'Specific programmes':

I. Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) - assists governments to reform customs procedures and management so as to improve efficiency of customs clearance and control and to simplify and harmonize trade formalities and procedures. The system is used in over 70 countries and uses state of the art information technology. There are modules for: import and export licences; manifest control; processing and validation of customs declaration; examination; warehousing and suspense regimes; customs accounting; and open facilities for the integration of user defined modules.

II. TRAINFORTRADE Programme, designed by UNCTAD in cooperation with ITC, allows developing countries to enhance competitiveness and take advantage of the new opportunities for trade by developing human resources for international trade and related services. Training packages responding to the priority needs of developing countries include: Commodity trading: futures and options markets, physical markets; Trade policies: national trade policies, competition policies, trade and environment; Trade perspectives: trade with EU single market countries.

III. Debt Management and Financial Analysis System (DMFAS) is computer-based system developed by UNCTAD to assist developing countries and countries in transition to develop appropriate administrative, institutional and legal structures for effective debt management and to establish an adequate information system, with detailed and aggregate data on loan contracts; past and future disbursements and debt service payments.

IV. EMPRETEC, established in 1988 to promote entrepreneurship and SME development, offers SMEs in developing countries the skills, technology opportunities, training and information necessary to help them realize their objectives, expand their activities and establish productive, stable linkages with foreign companies. Over 50,000 entrepreneurs in 24 countries have benefited so far from the programme.

V. Advance Cargo Information System (ACIS) for management of transport routes, developed by UNCTAD, assists African countries to develop their transport sector and overcome the problem of high costs linked to transportation in Africa. The system comprises computer applications to produce management information addressing multimodal cargo transit and transport problems. It can track cargoes anywhere in the multimodal transport chain and currently covers Southern, West/Central and East/Central Africa.

In addition to those mentioned above, UNCTAD is associated with the following treaties:

 • Food Aid Convention, 1995;

 • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1994 (GATT 1994);

 • Grains Trade Convention (GTC);

 • International Agreement on Jute and Jute Products, 1989;

 • International Sugar Agreement, 1992;

 • International Tropical Timber Agreement, 1983 (ITTA);

 • Protocol Relating to Trade Negotiations among Developing Countries (GATT Protocol);

 • Trade Expansion and Economic Cooperation Agreement between India, Egypt and Yugoslavia (Tripartite Agreement).


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Relations with Inter-Governmental Organizations

Relations with 175 inter-governmental organizations.
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Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations

Relations with 218 non-governmental organizations.
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Information Services

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Members in 194 countries
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Type I Classification

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Subjects *

  • Commerce
    • Investment
    • Trade
    • Business Enterprises
  • Industry
    • Utilities
  • Economics
    • Economy
  • Strategy
    • Strategy
  • International Relations
    • United Nations
    • Planetary Initiatives
  • Development
    • Development
  • Policy-making
    • Policy

UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal



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* Subject classification is derived from the organization names and aims.
** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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