Established in 1964, UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. UNCTAD has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.
192 countries are members of UNCTAD.
The organization works to fulfill this mandate by carrying out three key functions :
It functions as a forum for intergovernmental deliberations , supported by discussions with experts and exchanges of experience, aimed at consensus building .
It undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts.
It provides technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries, with special attention to the needs of the least developed countries and of economies in transition. When appropriate, UNCTAD cooperates with other organizations and donor countries in the delivery of technical assistance.
The Secretary-General of UNCTAD is Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi (Thailand), who took office on 1 September 2005.
In performing its functions, the secretariat works together with member Governments and interacts with organizations of the United Nations system and regional commissions, as well as with governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, including trade and industry associations, research institutes and universities worldwide.
A Brief History of UNCTAD
In the early 1960s, growing concerns about the place of developing countries in international trade led many of these countries to call for the convening of a full-fledged conference specifically devoted to tackling these problems and identifying appropriate international actions.
The first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was held in Geneva in 1964. Given the magnitude of the problems at stake and the need to address them, the conference was institutionalized to meet every four years, with intergovernmental bodies meeting between sessions and a permanent secretariat providing the necessary substantive and logistical support.
Simultaneously, the developing countries established the Group of 77 to voice their concerns. (Today, the G77 has 131 members.)
The prominent Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch , who had headed the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, became the organization's first Secretary-General.
Phase 1: The 1960s and 1970s
In its early decades of operation, UNCTAD gained authoritative standing:
as an intergovernmental forum for North-South dialogue and negotiations on issues of interest to developing countries, including debates on the “New International Economic Order” .
for its analytical research and policy advice on development issues.
Phase 2: The 1980s
In the 1980s, UNCTAD was faced with a changing economic and political environment:
There was a significant transformation in economic thinking . Development strategies became more market-oriented, focusing on trade liberalization and privatization of state enterprises.
A number of developing countries were plunged into severe debt crises . Despite structural adjustment programs by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, most developing countries affected were not able to recover quickly. In many cases, they experienced negative growth and high rates of inflation. For this reason, the 1980s become known as the “lost decade”, particularly in Latin America.
Economic interdependence in the world increased greatly.
Phase 3: From the 1990s until today
Key developments in the international context:
The conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations under the GATT resulted in the establishment of the World Trade Organizationin 1995, which led to a strengthening of the legal framework governing international trade.
A spectacular increase in international financial flows led to increasing financial instability and volatility.
Against this background, UNCTAD’s analysis gave early warning concerning the risks and the destructive impact of financial crises on development. Consequently, UNCTAD emphasized the need for a more development-oriented “international financial architecture”.
Foreign direct investment flows became a major component of globalization.
UNCTAD highlighted the need for a differentiated approach to the problems of developing countries. Its tenth conference, held in Bangkok in February 2000, adopted a political declaration – “ The Spirit of Bangkok ” – as a strategy to address the development agenda in a globalizing world.
Overview of the main activities
Trade and commodities
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. The CD-ROM version includes 119 countries.
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.
Investment, technology and enterprise development
International investment and technology arrangements : Helps developing countries to participate more actively in international investment rule making at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. These arrangements include the organization of capacity-building seminars and regional symposia and the preparation of a series of issues papers.
Investment Policy Reviews : Intended to familiarize Governments and the private sector with the investment environment and policies of a given country. Reviews have been carried out in a number of countries, including Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Peru, Uganda and Uzbekistan
Investment guides and capacity building for the LDCs : Some of the countries involved are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique and Uganda.
Technology : Services the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development and administers the Science and Technology for Development Network; carries out case studies on best practices in transfer of technology; undertakes Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews for interested countries, as well as capacity-building activities.
Empretec : Promotes entrepreneurship and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. Empretec programmes have been initiated in 27 countries, assisting more than 70,000 entrepreneurs through local market-driven business support centres.
Macroeconomic policies, debt and development financing
Policy analysis and research on issues concerning global economic interdependence, the international monetary and financial system, and macroeconomic and development policy challenges.
Technical and advisory support to the G24 group of developing countries (the Intergovernmental Group of 24) in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; advisory services to developing countries for debt rescheduling negotiations under the Paris Club.
Transport, customs and information technology
ASYCUDA programme : Integrated customs system that speeds up customs clearance procedures and helps Governments to reform and modernize their customs procedures and management. Installed in over 80 countries, ASYCUDA has become the internationally accepted standard for customs automation.
ACIS programme : Computerized cargo tracking system installed in 20 developing countries of Africa and Asia.
E-Tourism Initiative : Linking sustainable tourism and Information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development, UNCTAD has developed this Initiative to help developing countries' destinations to become more autonomous by taking charge of their own tourism promotion by using ICT tools.
Global Trade Point Network (GTPNet) : 150 centres around the world provide traders with trade-related information and services and assist in the introduction of e-business practices.
TrainForTrade programme : Builds training networks and organizes training in all areas of international trade to enable developing countries to increase their competitiveness. Currently developing distance learning programmes focusing on the LDCs.
Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries & small island developing States
Africa : Provides analytical work aimed at increasing the understanding of problems faced by African countries in their development efforts, and facilitating a better integration of Africa into the world economy. Particular emphasis is placed on supporting the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Least developed countries ( LDCs ) : Provides analytical work and technical assistance aimed at enabling relevant States to make the best possible use of LDC status in the framework of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, and to better understand the policy-related issues that are specially relevant to LDCs, notably with a view to developing productive capacities and reducing poverty in these countries.
Landlocked developing countries ( LLDCs ) : Provides analytical work and technical assistance to LLDCs in support of the implementation of the 2003 Almaty Programme of Action, which deals with the special needs of LLDCs within a new global framework for transit transport cooperation for landlocked and transit developing countries.
Small island developing States (SIDS) : Provides analytical work and technical assistance to SIDS in support of the implementation of the 2005 Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, with particular emphasis on issues of economic vulnerability and specialization.
The highest decision-making body of UNCTAD is the quadrennial conference, at which member States make assessments of current trade and development issues, discuss policy options and formulate global policy responses. The conference also sets the organization’s mandate and work priorities.
The conference is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly.
The conferences serve an important political function: they allow intergovernmental consensus building regarding the state of the world economy and development policies, and they play a key role in identifying the role of the United Nations and UNCTAD in addressing economic development problems.
Generalized System of Preferences
The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world, provides preferential duty-free entry for more than 4,650 products from 143 designated beneficiary countries and territories.
The GSP program was instituted on Jan. 1, 1976, and authorized under the Trade Act of 1974 for a 10-year period.
It has been renewed periodically since then, most recently in 2006, when President George Bush signed legislation that reauthorized the GSP program through 2008.
The following Guidebook and other information sources are provided to encourage the use of GSP duty-free treatment for fostering economic growth through the expansion of trade between the United States and the developing GSP beneficiaries.
Congress created the U.S. GSP program in 1974, with broad bipartisan support, to expand the choices of American industry and consumers while creating economic opportunities in developing countries.
The GSP program provides preferential duty-free treatment for 3,400 products from 134 designated beneficiary developing countries (BDCs) and territories.
In 1996, an additional 1,450 articles from least-developed beneficiary developing countries (LDBDCs) were made eligible for duty-free treatment.
There are currently 43 least-developed GSP beneficiaries. U.S. imports under GSP in 2006 from all beneficiaries totaled $32.6 billion, an increase of 22 percent over 2005.