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Founded: 1964
Headquarters: DC2-1120, United Nations
New York, NY 10017
Email: info[at]unctad.org
Website: UNCTAD
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Key People
Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General
Petko Draganov, Deputy Secretary-General

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) promotes the integration of developing countries into the world economy, as well as shape current policy debates and thinking, with a particular focus on domestic policies and international actions enhancing development.

The UNCTAF Secretariat works with United Nations system, regional commissions, governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector (including trade and industry associations), research institutes and universities worldwide.[1]


UNCTAD was formed to discuss the growing issues in the trading community of developing countries in early 60s. Raúl Prebisch became the first General Secretary of the organization. The first conference of UNCTAD was held in Geneva in 1964, after which it has taken place every four years.

In the first decade of work UNCTAD launched several agreements including:

  • Generalized System of Preferences (1968)
  • International Commodities Agreements
  • Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences
  • Control of Restrictive Business Practices

Regarding the development of poor countries, in 1981, UNCTAD organized the first UN Conference on Least Developed Countries. In 1986 UNCTAD played a role in the launch of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade General Agreement on Trade in Services. It made an Agreement on the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries in 1989.

UNCTAD proposed development-oriented “international financial architecture” in 1990s in response to worldwide financial crisis. The organization is now focused on analytical research of trade, investment, technology, enterprise development and the link between them, as well as to expand work on international investment issues. UNCTAD has increased its technical assistance services, which include training trade negotiators and addressing trade-related issues; debt management, investment policy reviews and the promotion of entrepreneurship; commodities; competition law and policy; and trade and environment.[2]

Since January 1999, UNCTAD has been promoting e-commerce in the world, with special consideration for developing countries.[3] It organizes e-commerce workshops to be held in developing countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Peru.[4] It also publishes reports on Information Technology economics. These reports can be downloaded through the official website.[5] UNCTAD has organized a domain name dispute resolution policy which can be read here.

Key Functionality

The basic responsibilities of UNCTAD are summarized in three points:

  • Provision of a forum for intergovernmental deliberations, supported by discussions for building consensus of experts;
  • Carrying out research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts;
  • Provision of assistance in building economy of developing countries.[6]


UNCTAD works for the betterment of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states. UNCTAD has taken several initiatives including management of competition and consumer policies, trade negotiations and commercial diplomacy, trade analysis and information system, investment guides, investment policy reviews, EMPRETEC to promote internships, and computer-based debt management and financial analysis system.

In the field of technology UNCTAD has started E-Tourism and ASYCUDA programs to speed up custom clearances and managing tourism information respectively. [7]

Relationship with International Organizations

Approximately 111 intergovernmental bodies are observers of the UNCTAD Development Board. It works with several other international organizations for the betterment of the developing countries;

  • UNCTAD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Trade Organization in April 2003. Both organizations work together frequently to provide consultation on technical issues.
  • The International Trade Center is sponsored by UNCTAD and WTO. It works for operational, enterprise-oriented aspects of trade development and focuses on assisting businesses in developing countries.
  • UNCTAD works with UN Regional Commissions and UNDP for research-related projects and joint seminars, workshops and and for supporting UNCTAD activities in different countries.
  • It works with Bretton Woods institutions and IMF. It is a member of Inter-Agency Task Force for finance statistics.[8]



UNCTAD conferences are held every four years. The upcoming UNCTAD conference is set for 17 to 22 April, 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. The last five conferences were held in:

  • Doha, Qatar from 21 to 26 April, 2012
  • Accra, Ghana from 20 to 25 April 2008.
  • São Paulo, Brazil from 13 to 18 June 2004.
  • Bangkok, Thailand from 12 to 19 February in 2000.
  • Midrand, South Africa from 27 April to 11 May in 1996.[9]

ICT Events

UNCTAD arranges WSIS workshops and events regularly.[10][11] In the field of Information and Communication Technologies, UNCTAD has hosted following events:

  • Open Consultation held in October 2009 concerning financial mechanisms for meeting the challenges of ICTs for Development.
  • ICT 4 All Forum Tunis+4, in November 2009.[12]