United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

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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;56 years ago (1964-12-30)
Legal statusActive
Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland
Acting Secretary-General
Isabelle Durant
Parent organization
United Nations General Assembly
United Nations Secretariat
Website unctad.org
The Headquarters of the UNCTAD are located at the Palais des Nations in Geneva UN Building E View.JPG
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 a permanent intergovernmental body.


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. [1]

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 Generalised 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 is due to be held in Bridgetown (Barbados) from 3-8 October, 2021.

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. [2] There are non-governmental organizations participating in the activities of UNCTAD. [3]


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UNCTAD Members
UNCTAD Members at the Trade and Development Board UNCTAD map.png
  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 UNCTAD List ABCD.png
  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: [4] 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 [4] with six members unassigned: Armenia, 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 [5] 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 [6]

The full lists are as follows:

List A (100 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, South Korea, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
List B (31 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, 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, 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): Armenia, 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:

UNCTAD XV Bridgetown Flag of Barbados.svg Barbados3-8 October 2021 [7] [8]
UNCTAD XIV Nairobi Flag of Kenya.svg Kenya17-22 July 2016 [9]
UNCTAD XIII Doha Flag of Qatar.svg Qatar21–26 April 2012 [10]
UNCTAD XII Accra Flag of Ghana.svg Ghana21–25 April 2008 [11]
UNCTAD XI São Paulo Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil13–18 June 2004 [12]
UNCTAD X Bangkok Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand12–19 February 2000 [13]
UNCTAD IX Midrand Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa27 April – 11 May 1996
UNCTAD VIII Cartagena Flag of Colombia.svg Colombia8–25 February 1992
UNCTAD VII Geneva Flag of Switzerland.svg  Switzerland8 Jul-3 Aug 1987
UNCTAD VI Belgrade Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg Yugoslavia6–30 Jun 1983
UNCTAD V Manila Flag of the Philippines.svg Philippines7 May-3 Jun 1979
UNCTAD IV Nairobi Flag of Kenya.svg Kenya5–31 May 1976
UNCTAD III Santiago Flag of Chile.svg Chile13 Apr-21 May 1972
UNCTAD II New Delhi Flag of India.svg India31 Jan-29 Mar 1968
UNCTAD I Geneva Flag of Switzerland.svg  Switzerland23 Mar-16 Jun 1964

The 15th quadrennial meeting is scheduled to take place in Bridgetown, Barbados, from 25 to 30 April 2021. [14]

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. [15] 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. [16]

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. [15] [17]

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. [15] [18]

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. [19] [20]

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. [21]

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. [15]

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:


UNCTAD conducts technical cooperation programmes [32] such as ASYCUDA, DMFAS, EMPRETEC [33] 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). [30]

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
1 Raúl Prebisch 1963–1969Flag of Argentina.svg Argentina
2Manuel Pérez-Guerrero1969–1974Flag of Venezuela.svg Venezuela
3 Gamani Corea 1974–1984Flag of Sri Lanka.svg Sri Lanka
4Alister McIntyre1985Flag of Grenada.svg GrenadaOfficer-in-Charge
5Kenneth K.S. Dadzie1986–1994Flag of Ghana.svg Ghana
6Carlos Fortin1994–1995Flag of Chile.svg ChileOfficer-in-Charge
7 Rubens Ricupero 1995–2004Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil
8Carlos Fortin2004–2005Flag of Chile.svg ChileOfficer-in-Charge
9 Supachai Panitchpakdi 1 September 2005 – 30 August 2013Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand
10 Mukhisa Kituyi 1 September 2013 – 15 February 2021Flag of Kenya.svg Kenya
11 Isabelle Durant Since 15 February 2021Flag of Belgium (civil).svg BelgiumOfficer-in-Charge

See also

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