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United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
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United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was established in 1964 as a permanent intergovernmental body. It is the principal organ of the United Nations General Assembly 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." (from official website). The creation of the conference was based on concerns of developing countries over the international market, multi-national corporations, and great disparity between developed nations and developing nations.

In the 1970s and 1980s, UNCTAD was closely associated with the idea of a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was established in 1964 in order to provide a forum where the developing countries could discuss the problems relating to their economic development. UNCTAD 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.

The primary objective of the 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 first conference took place in Geneva in 1964, 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 and the ninth at Johannesburg (South Africa)in 1996. The Conference has its permanent secretariat in Geneva.

One of the principal achievements of UNCTAD has been to conceive and implement the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). It was argued in UNCTAD, that in order 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 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.

Currently, UNCTAD has 194 member States and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. UNCTAD has 400 staff members and an bi-annual (2010 2011) regular budget of $138 million in core budget expenditures and $72 million in extra-budgetary technical assistance funds. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.[1] There is a list of non-governmental organizations participating in the activities of UNCTAD. [2]



The inter-governmental work is done at 5 levels of meetings:[3]

  • The UNCTAD Trade and Development Board the Board manages the work of UNCTAD in 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 in order to take up policy, programme and budgetary issues;
  • Expert Meetings the Commissions will convene expert meetings on selected topics in order to provide substantive and expert input for Commission policy discussions.

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 Idcs were successful in their proposal for the conference with its Secretariat to become a permanent organ of the UN, with meetings every four years.[8]

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. While the first conference was held in Geneva in 1964, the second 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 also led to the International Sugar Agreement, which seeks to stabilise world sugar prices.[9][10]

Santiago, 1972

The Santiago Conference, April 15, 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 socalled 'link'). In Santiago, substantial disagreements arose within the Group of 77 (G77) despite preconference meetings. There was disagreement both over the SDR proposal and between those within 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.[11][12]

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.[13][14]

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.[15]

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.[16]


UNCTAD produces a number of topical reports, including:


UNCTAD also conducts various technical cooperation programmes such as ASYCUDA, DMFAS, EMPRETEC 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)

List of Secretaries-General and Officers-in-Charge

Number Secretary-General Dates in office Country of origin Remarks
1 Ra l Prebisch 1963 1969 Argentina
2 Manuel P rez-Guerrero 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 present[17] Thailand

See also


Further reading

External links

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