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UNCTAD: The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development


Protestors at the UNCTAD meeting in Bangkok in 2000.
Picture Credit: BBC
This page provides articles and speeches from the UNCTAD conferences. Normally UNCTAD meetings do not excite a lot of interest in the North, as the summits are considered to deal with issues that belong within the domain of the WTO, and with the debate dominated by Southern perspectives. However, with recent disputes over the current unregulated course of globalization, UNCTAD is not only important to the South, but it is also important to anyone interested in alternatives to the dominant free market neo-liberal views of the IMF, the Bank and the WTO.

 Reports | Articles | Links


UNCTAD: Least Developed Countries Report (December 5, 2011)

UNCTAD’s most recent report draws attention to the importance of South-South economic relationships to eradicate poverty, achieve internationally agreed development goals and promote inclusive development. The report further emphasizes the pivotal role “catalytic Development States” play in determining the success of South-South cooperation. Catalytic States are defined as “development States that are more holistic and integrated.” More generally, UNCTADs report advocates for development regionalism “that accepts globalization as a historical trend, but rejects the market-led approach to globalization.”  (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Trade and Development Report Overview (2009)

This overview on UNCTAD's latest report focuses on the world financial crisis and its effects both on developed and developing countries. The report overview claims that "the current crisis is due to the predominance of finance over productive sectors of the economy where real wealth is created. This was made possible by policymakers' euphoria over the efficiency of free markets."  The overview emphasizes also "the imperative need for reform of the international monetary and financial system" in order to stabilize trade and financial relations. (UNCTAD)

Enhancing the Development Role and Impact of UNCTAD (June 2006)

This report of a reform panel on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) emphasizes the need to concentrate on its "effective and efficient functioning", which may be a disguised way of strengthening neo-liberal trends within this once very creative body. The report contains 21 recommendations, calling on the UN body to improve "coordination" and "communication" with other agencies. This may be a coded reference to closer ties with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (United Nations)

Least Developed Countries Report 2006 (May 17, 2006)

UNCTAD finds that higher rates of economic growth in many least developed countries (LDCs) have not translated into improved human well-being. The comprehensive 2006 Least Developed Countries Report suggests that LDCs must increase their very low labor productivity to achieve sustained growth and poverty reduction. As 2000-2010 will be the first decade in the LDCs where the economically active population outside agriculture will grow faster than that within, the LDCs must develop competitive businesses in manufacturing and services, says the report. It identifies challenges that LDCs will face in this effort, among them improving physical infrastructure. UNCTAD finds that donors must reallocate aid to address these challenges.

Economic Development in Africa Rethinking the Role of Foreign Direct Investment (September 13, 2005)

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) often fails in creating jobs, transferring new technologies and promoting social progress. This UNCTAD
report focuses on FDI's costs and benefits in Africa. It calls for their "replacement with a more balanced and more strategic approach tailored to African socio-economic conditions and development challenges".

Debt Sustainability: Oasis or Mirage? (September 30, 2004)

This 2004 report from United Nations Conference on Trade and Development addresses the debt problems of African countries in the context of the Millennium Development Goals. The report criticizes former debt relief initiatives for poor outcomes and suggests a "moratorium on debt servicing" and an independent panel to review the sustainability of debt. (UNCTAD)

Development and Globalization: Facts and Figures (June 14, 2004)

Aimed at a broad audience, this United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) publication provides a variety of facts, key figures and statistics on global economy, trade and development.

The Rural Poverty Trap: Why Agricultural Trade Rules Need to Change, and What UNCTAD IX Could Do About It (June 2004)

Unfair trade rules, the unjust market structure, and inadequate agricultural policies entrench rural poverty. Because of its focus on poverty, poor nations, trade and agriculture, UNCTAD has an essential role in improving the plight of the rural poor. Oxfam delineates specific UNCTAD policies that would call attention to this "rural poverty trap" and target the "commodity crisis" that burdens small farmers. (Oxfam)

Least Developed Countries Report (2004)

This UNCTAD report argues that trade liberalization has made few advances in poverty reduction. However, international trade can play a crucial role in the development of Least Developed Countries if governments in both poor and rich states undertake substantial change in the international trade system.

World Investment Report 2003 (September 4, 2003)

While governments have pushed for liberalization of foreign direct investment (FDI), and introduced a large number of international investment agreements, this UNCTAD report documents a downturn in FDI.

World Investment Report 2002

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) World Investment Report traces world foreign direct investment (FDI) flows and identifies potential for increased FDI. The report focuses on the increasing importance of transnational corporations for enhancing developing countries' export competitiveness. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Trade and Development Report (2002)

This report focuses on the reasons developing countries are trading more, but earning comparatively less. UNCTAD also addresses China's accession to the WTO and the prospects of a global economic recovery in the near future.

UNCTAD Trade and Development Report (2001)

The UNCTAD Trade and Development Report 2001 says that more attention should be given to the role played by institutions and policies in creditor countries in triggering international financial crises.

Secretary General's Report to the General Assembly on International Trade and Development (September 2000)

A report on developments on mutilateral trading systems which includes the report of UNCTAD on its tenth session as well as the report of the Trade and Development Board.



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The need for alternatives to current investment treaties (October 15, 2014)

"The primary role of the Investment Division of UNCTAD should be to provide to developing countries alternatives to the unbalanced provisions of international investment treaties" say 240 organizations from over 150 countries in a letter to Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary general of the UN body specializing in trade and development. The signatories worry about "the growing restrictions on policy space resulting from the investment protection rules". It is hoped that the letter will make a useful contribution to the ongoing debate, particularly in light of current discussions around UNCTAD's mandate that are already taking place in advance of the institution's next quadrennial ministerial meeting, UNCTAD XIV, to be held in June 2016.


“Business As Usual” Is the Wrong Economic Advice for the Global South (May 7, 2012)

Rising economic growth numbers in the “developing world” since 2002 are not evidence of the benign power of “global market forces,” says UNCTAD’s head of economic co-operation and integration. If anything, developing countries should steer clear from “business as usual” practices like export-led growth, and instead focus on industrial policies and domestic social and redistribution policies. Kozul-Wright urges the world’s powerful countries to understand that reform of global governance arrangements is also in their long-term interest. (Guardian)

Victory at UNCTAD XIII (April 29, 2012)

In this article, Deborah James of the Center for Economic and Policy Research extensively discusses the victory achieved by developing countries at the most recent UNCTAD conference. Developed and developing countries were pitted against each other over UNCTAD’s mandate, particularly with respect to its role in researching the financial crisis and offering macro-economic policy proposals. Hardly surprising, developed countries wanted to curtail UNCTAD’s mandates precisely because it had been so successful at predicting the financial crisis. This otherwise counter-intuitive position is typical for the powerful countries who want to rid themselves of interference from “outsiders” in the realm of global economic governance. During the tough negotiations, the developing countries “won” the fight and made sure that UNCTAD’s role would be retained. Even though UNCTAD’s standing can still not match that of the IMF and World Bank, the success at the 13th conference cannot be underestimated and may signal the beginning of a turning point for global economic governance. (Huffington Post)

United Nations: Battle to Save UNCTAD's Mandate (April 16, 2012)

In this article South Centre director Martin Khor explains the battles that have been taking place between developed and developing countries during the preparatory talks for UNCTAD XIII, the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s upcoming meeting on “development-centered globalization.” Developed countries have continually tried to stifle UNCTAD’s work since its establishment in 1964, but current talks have been markedly hostile. The main issue of contention is the attempt on the part of developed countries to curtail the range of issues UNCTAD works on, particularly macro-economic and finance issues. Within the wider UN-system (which includes the IMF and the World Bank), UNCTAD has provided a much needed alternative voice, countervailing the powerful pro-Western institutions.

Silencing the Message or the Messenger …. or Both? (April 11, 2012)

On the eve of the UNCTAD XIII conference, a host of former senior officials published an open letter of protest against the continual attempts of OECD countries to frustrate the organization’s ability to fulfill its mandate. Established as a counterweight to the pro-Western Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) and GATT, the UN Conference on Trade and Development has a markedly better track-record at foreseeing financial and economic crises and highlighting the structurally unfair relations between developed and developing countries. According to the former officials, alternative ideas on financial and economic matters that can assume a development perspective and take sustainability seriously are imperative at this time. The further marginalization of UNCTAD must therefore be stopped.


UNCTAD Report Calls for a Shift in Foreign Investment towards Job Growth and Diversification in Poor Countries (May 2, 2011)

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), long held up as a panacea for world poverty, has been an utter failure in job generating potential for the poorest countries. Economists working for UNCTAD have issued a report that voices concern over the overall lack of integration in global “value chains” for the least developed countries (LDCs). FDI should be invested in diversifying economies and aim to train skilled workers. Additionally, projects should focus on solving social and environmental issues, and not mere profit taking. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Chief asks LDCs to Mobilize Internal Resources (March 24, 2011)

Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Supachai Panichpakdi has recommended that poor countries develop their own resource bases because developed countries have stalled on their aid commitments.  Mr. Panichpakdi noted that wealthy European countries and the US face a multitude of economic difficulties.  This will no doubt lead to resource constraints for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the future. (Republica)


Financial Crisis Jeopardize UN Agency's Development Goals (September 11, 2009)

UNCTAD's last report states that the contraction in the global economy makes it impossible to attain the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Although some economies like India and China have resisted the crisis better than other developing countries, the general situation remains pessimistic. According to the report, a temporary moratorium would help indebted countries to maintain necessary levels of public expenditure and imports. (Philippine Star)


Making Certification Work for Sustainable Development: The Case of Biofuels (October 6, 2008)

This UNCTAD report discusses pros and cons of biofuel certification. Supporters of certification argue that by making information available on biofuel production, buyers can choose not to use unsustainable biofuels. Critics argue that the proposed certification requirements are blurry and fail to address several problems with biofuel production, such as the environmental costs and exploitation of unused land with high biodiversity value.

The Accra Declaration (April 25, 2008)

The Accra Declaration concluded the Twelfth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII), held in Accra, Ghana, in April 2008. The declaration specifically addresses the global food crisis. The document repeats dominant discourse on the crisis, by emphasizing the need for further trade liberalization and increased investment in agriculture. The declaration also recommends the removal of "trade-distorting non-tariff measures" to allow for "broader market access". Disappointingly, the declaration fails to clarify which non-tariff measures should be removed (agricultural subsidies for European farmers, perhaps?), nor does it mention which nations must remove these measures and which nations would benefit from broader market access. (UNCTAD)

A Time of High Prices: An Opportunity for the Rural Poor? (April 2008)

This Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy report argues that while high commodity prices "such as those of 2007 and 2008" can potentially benefit farmers, this is not the case in the short-term. The immediate effects of high food prices are to place extreme stress on the urban and rural poor of net-food importing, low-income countries. The IATP urges trade ministers at the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Accra, 2008 (UNCTAD XII) to review three decades of commodity market liberalization critically and to take action to rebalance power relations in agricultural markets.

UN Sees Risk of Global Recession (January 9, 2008)

UNCTAD's "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2008" report warns that the world economy may come to a near standstill in 2008, hitting poor countries particularly hard. The main causes of this global stagnation would be a recession in the US and the further descent of the dollar. (Voice of America)



Knowledge, Innovation, and the Way Out of Poverty (July 30, 2007)

A UNCTAD report argues that even though most of the "World's Least Developed Countries" (LDCs) these countries have opened their economies, thereby attracting foreign investments and increasing exports, they are not making the progress they should be in terms of economic development. The report argues that in addition to economic liberalization, LDCs need knowledge, skills and technological innovation to make their way out of poverty. Introducing new commercial products, improving the infrastructure, human capital and financial systems of the country, and upgrading the technology can advance growth and reduce the countries' poverty.



Trade Liberalization and Its Consequences (April 26, 2006)

Speaking at Stanford University, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), looks at the "economic benefits and costs" of trade liberalization for poor countries. A handful of emerging countries has gained from increased foreign direct investment (FDI) and trade. But most poor countries struggle to benefit from multilateral trade liberalization and fail to attract FDI capable of transferring know how and technology. Panitchpakdi also urges that rich countries' Aid-for-Trade commitments must be additional to their development aid promises of the Doha Round. (South Centre)

UNCTAD Highlights Increasing Impact of Environmental Requirements on Exports of Developing Countries (March 31, 2006)

To protect the environment, ensure health and safety, governments introduce product standards, requiring producers to keep content levels of particular substances below specific thresholds, respect certain occupational safety standards or ensure animal welfare. But by adopting stringent product standards, rich countries also make it more difficult for poor countries' exports to enter their markets. This UNCTAD 2006 Trade and Environment Review (TER) argues that poor countries can turn Western product standards into rewarding exporting opportunities. But, while the report emphasizes rich and poor countries' "shared responsibility" for environmental protection, it seems to say little about rich countries' responsibility in helping poor countries to adapt to the standards. (Inter Press Service)

Reinventing UNCTAD (February 20, 2006)

Although United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) policies enjoyed strong support from poor countries for decades, rich countries have dismantled the organization's efforts to "build a stable, viable and genuinely democratic international community". In this South Centre report, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali describes the necessary steps to turn the organization back into a platform that promotes equality and sustainable development among all countries. 


Poorer Nations Pay Dearly for Investment Deals (November 29, 2004)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development cautions about the rising number of trade and investment disputes, which "threaten to undermine the meaning of many economic treaties". Poor countries face the greatest loss due to power asymmetries in the global trade system as influential companies challenge the investment rules of governments. (Inter Press Service)

Really Bad Trade News Obscured by Distractingly Bad News on Other Fronts (June 10, 2004)

The UNCTAD biannual report "calls into question the entire 'globalization' or 'free market' system." This discussion, and augmentation, of the report highlights recent failures of neo-liberal economic policies by sighting increasing inequality and the devastation of independent industries in poor countries. ( Transnational Institute)

Breaking out of the WTO Box (April 1, 2004)

In preparation for the UN Conference on Trade and Development in June 2004, NGOs drafted a proposal challenging the neo-liberal agenda of the WTO and suggested the UN as an alternative body to regulate global trade. (Utne)

Retailers to Meet With Women Entrepreneurs (March 25, 2004)

UNCTAD believes that women entrepreneurs must forge partnerships with UN agencies to tackle poverty and gender inequality issues. UNCTAD stresses that these partnerships must aim to enhance export opportunities for women, increase the earnings of home-based women workers, and promote sustainable and gender-sensitive methods of production.

UN Agency Releases New Guidelines on Corporate Environmental Accounting (February 13, 2004)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has developed new guidelines on eco-efficiency in companies. The guidelines aim to quantify the impact environmental factors have on financial results and provide ways to increase profits whilst minimizing environmental impacts. (UN News Centre)

Beyond Conventional Wisdom in Development Policy. An Intellectual History of UNCTAD 1964-2004 (2004)

This United Nations Conference on Trade and Development document presents the scope and content of the organization's work over the last 40 years. The document explores UNCTAD's engagement in development issues and gives a historical overview of the main development debates, ranging from international trade to foreign direct investment.



National, International Dimensions of Trade on the Agenda in Brazil (October 20, 2003)

UNCTAD’s eleventh conference in 2004 will focus on the link between the national and international dimensions of trade. Delegates will consider the connections between a country's ability to produce goods and services, and multilateral trade negotiations.

A Spectre Haunts the Post-Cancun World (October 6, 2003)

Since the 1980s, deregulation and liberalization of trade and capital flows undermined domestic policy efforts to support equitable and sustainable growth, says Rubens Ricupero, secretary-general of UNCTAD. He urges for debt relief and better conditions of debt repayment, to ensure that international trade and finance promote development. (Guardian)

UNCTAD Report Shows Global Slowdown Having Very Uneven Impact on Developing World (October 2, 2003)

UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report of 2003 points out that today's economic landscape resembles the conditions of the early 1980s, when many countries faced financial crises. Western governments should stop forcing poor countries to open their markets to foreign competition, and instead help them to adapt to a global climate of high economic volatility.

Paradox of Abundance, Need for Reform (August 5, 2003)

UNCTAD estimates that, if current trends continue, Brazil will replace the US as the world's leading food producer in a decade. Yet, landless Brazilian peasants call for agrarian reform to redistribute land and thus decrease poverty and hunger. (Inter Press Service)



UNCTAD Head Debunks US Zero Tariff Proposals (December 3, 2002)

The head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development blasts the US proposal to dismantle worldwide tariffs on industrial goods for hindering development. He argues that the most vulnerable countries need "special and more favorable conditions", and questions why the US targets industrial and not agricultural tariffs. (South-North Development Monitor)

WTO Moves Closer to UN (October 11, 2002)

New WTO leader Supachai Panitchpakdi breaks with his predecessors by pledging to forge closer relations with UN agencies such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Supachai hopes the partnership will help the WTO come to a "real understanding" about the interests of developing countries concerning trade. (Inter Press Service)

Poverty is Worsening in African LDCs (September, 2002)

A UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report shows that the proportion of people in Africa's least developed countries living below $2 per day increased between the 1960s and 1990s. UNCTAD argues that dependence on low value-added commodities and trade liberalization have worsened poverty in those regions. (Africa Recovery)

Why More Exports Have Not Made Developing Countries Richer (May 11, 2002)

According to UNCTAD's 2002 Trade and Development Report, exports in developing countries have risen but the income earned from exports has not grown. Export-orientation does not necessarily suffice as a means of integrating countries into world trade or furthering sustainable development. (IDEAS)

EU Globalization Study (February 13, 2002)

In a comprehensive report, the EU Commission weighs the pros and cons of globalization and proposes policy recommendations. The report looks at crisis prevention and development through global taxes, programs to safeguard the poor, good governance, and development aid. (EU Commission)

Economic Development in Africa: From Adjustment to Poverty Reduction - What is New? (2002)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) criticizes the World Bank and the IMF for continuing to implement structural adjustment and economic stabilization policies in Africa, despite evidence that those policies have failed.


Archived Articles


Links and Resources


General website of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.



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