UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is an intergovernmental organization within the United Nations Secretariat that promotes the interests of developing countries in world trade.[1] It was established in 1964 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development but rebranded to its current name on the occasion of its 60th anniversary in 2024.[2] It reports to both the General Assembly and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).[3] UNCTAD is composed of 195 member states and works with non-governmental organizations worldwide;[4] its permanent secretariat is at UNOG in Geneva, Switzerland.

UN Trade and Development
Formation30 December 1964; 59 years ago (1964-12-30)
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
Rebeca Grynspan
Parent organization
United Nations General Assembly
United Nations Secretariat
The Headquarters of UNCTAD are located at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The primary objective of UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development, including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology. It was created in response to concerns among developing countries that existing international institutions like GATT (since replaced by the World Trade Organization), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank were not properly organized to handle the particular problems of developing countries; UNCTAD would provide a forum where developing nations could discuss and address problems relating to their economic development.

One of UNCTAD's principal achievements was conceiving and implementing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which promotes the export of manufactured goods from developing countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, UNCTAD was closely associated with the New International Economic Order (NIEO), a set of proposals that sought to reduce economic dependency and inequality between developing and developed countries.

UNCTAD conferences ordinarily take place every four years, with the first occurring in Geneva in 1964; fifteen subsequent meetings have taken place worldwide, with the most recent held in Bridgetown, Barbados, from 3–8 October 2021 (albeit virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

UNCTAD has 400 staff members and a biannual (2010–2011) regular budget of US$138 million in core expenditures and US$72 million in extra-budgetary technical assistance funds. It is a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, a consortium of UN entities that work to promote sustainable socioeconomic development.[5]


  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, UNCTAD has 195 member states:[6] all UN members plus UN observer states Palestine and the Holy See. UNCTAD members are divided into four categories based on United Nations Regional Groups,[6] with six members unassigned: Kiribati, Nauru, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Tuvalu. List A consists mostly of countries in the UN's African Group and Asia-Pacific Group. 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[7] 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, a UN specialized agency.

The most recent member is Palestine[8]

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 XV Bridgetown   Barbados 3-8 October 2021[9][10]
UNCTAD XIV Nairobi   Kenya 17–22 July 2016[11]
UNCTAD XIII Doha   Qatar 21–26 April 2012[12]
UNCTAD XII Accra   Ghana 21–25 April 2008[13]
UNCTAD XI São Paulo   Brazil 13–18 June 2004[14]
UNCTAD X Bangkok   Thailand 12–19 February 2000[15]
UNCTAD IX Midrand   South Africa 27 April – 11 May 1996
UNCTAD VIII Cartagena   Colombia 8–25 February 1992
UNCTAD VII Geneva    Switzerland 8 Jul-3 Aug 1987
UNCTAD VI Belgrade   Yugoslavia 6–30 Jun 1983
UNCTAD V Manila   Philippines 7 May-3 Jun 1979
UNCTAD IV Nairobi   Kenya 5–31 May 1976
UNCTAD III Santiago   Chile 13 Apr-21 May 1972
UNCTAD II New Delhi   India 31 Jan-29 Mar 1968
UNCTAD I Geneva    Switzerland 23 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 took place virtually in Bridgetown, Barbados, from 25 to 30 April 2021.[16]

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.[17] At the Geneva meeting, Raúl Prebisch—a prominent Argentinian economist from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)—became the organization's first secretary-general.[18]

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 generalized 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 achieve 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.[17][19]

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.[17][20]

Nairobi, 1976, and Manila, 1979


UNCTAD IV, held in Nairobi in 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.[21][22]

UNCTAD V, held in Manila in 1979 in the wake of the Nairobi Conference, 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.[17]

Bridgetown, 2021


The fifteenth session of UNCTAD was originally scheduled in 2020 but was delayed until 2021 due to COVID-19. This was the first time the conference was held in a Small Island Developing State (SIDS).



One of UNCTAD's earliest and most notable accomplishments was the formulation and implementation of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which offered special tariff concessions to exports of manufactured goods by developing countries. 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.



UNCTAD produces a number of topical reports, including:



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

Nr Secretary-General Dates in office Country of origin Remarks
1 Raúl Prebisch 1963–1969   Argentina
2 Manuel Pérez Guerrero [es] 1969–1974   Venezuela
3 Gamani Corea 1974–1984   Sri Lanka
4 Alister McIntyre 1985   Grenada Officer-in-Charge
5 Kenneth K.S. Dadzie 1986–1994   Ghana
6 Carlos Fortin 1994–1995   Chile Officer-in-Charge
7 Rubens Ricupero 1995–2004   Brazil
8 Carlos Fortin 2004–2005   Chile Officer-in-Charge
9 Supachai Panitchpakdi 1 September 2005 – 30 August 2013   Thailand
10 Mukhisa Kituyi 1 September 2013 – 15 February 2021   Kenya
11 Isabelle Durant 15 February 2021 – 11 June 2021   Belgium Officer-in-Charge
12 Rebeca Grynspan Since 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. ^ "UN Trade and Development brand materials". UNCTAD. Retrieved 18 May 2024.
  3. ^ "About UNCTAD | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  4. ^ "List of non-governmental organizations participating in the activities of UNCTAD" (PDF). UNCTAD. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  5. ^ "UNDG Members". Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Membership of UNCTAD and membership of the Trade and Development Board" (PDF). unctad.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  7. ^ "A/RES/1995(XIX) - E - A/RES/1995(XIX) -Desktop". undocs.org.
  8. ^ "Palestinians join 2 UN agencies, chemical weapons pact", Ynetnews, 24 May 2018
  9. ^ "Fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15) | UNCTAD". unctad.org.
  10. ^ "UNCTAD 15 Barbados - DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TRADE". UNCTAD 15 Barbados.
  11. ^ [1] UNCTAD 14 Home Page
  12. ^ "Home | UNCTAD". www.unctadxiii.org. Archived from the original on 30 September 2018. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  13. ^ "UNCTAD XII Adopts Wide-Ranging Conclusions". Archived from the original on 26 August 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
  14. ^ "Unctad Xi". Archived from the original on 26 March 2004. Retrieved 26 March 2004.
  16. ^ UNCTAD, Fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15), accessed 27 October 2020
  17. ^ a b c d "UNCTAD VI: background and issues". ODI Briefing Paper. Overseas Development Institute. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  18. ^ "History". United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
  19. ^ "The UN Conference on Trade and Development". ODI Briefing Paper 1. Overseas Development Institute. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  20. ^ "ODI Briefing Paper". UNCTAD III, problems and prospects. Overseas Development Institute. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  21. ^ a b "UNCTAD V: A preview of the issues". ODI Briefing Papers 2. Overseas Development Institute. April 1979. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  22. ^ "UNCTAd VI: background and issues". ODI Briefing Paper. Overseas Development Institute. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  23. ^ "Trade and Development Report 2022". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 31 January 2023.
  24. ^ "Trade and Environment Review Series". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  25. ^ "World Investment Report". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 23 April 2024.
  26. ^ "Economic Development in Africa Report 2022". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 2 December 2022.
  27. ^ "The Least Developed Countries Report 2022". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 3 December 2022.
  28. ^ "Statistics". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 17 February 2024.
  29. ^ "Digital economy report". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 11 October 2023.
  30. ^ "Review of Maritime Transport 2022". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 17 December 2022.
  31. ^ a b "Accounting and Reporting Issues (Series)". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 7 December 2023.
  32. ^ "Technology and Innovation Report 2021". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022.
  33. ^ "Formal requests for UNCTAD technical cooperation". UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 21 December 2023.
  34. ^ "Empretec Women in Business Awards 2018". World Investment Forum – UNCTAD. Archived from the original on 30 November 2018. Retrieved 29 November 2018.

Further reading