icon twittericon facebookicon youtubeInstagram

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

I. Core Areas

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. The Organization 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. Established in 1964, UNCTAD is the principal organ of the General Assembly in the field of trade and development.

UNCTAD undertakes its mandate through three key functions: (i) as a forum for intergovernmental deliberations, supported by discussions with experts and exchanges of experience, aimed at consensus building; (ii) undertaking research, policy analysis and data collection; and (iii) providing technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries, with special attention to the needs of the least developed countries (LDCs) and of economies in transition. When appropriate, UNCTAD cooperates with other organizations and donor countries in the delivery of technical assistance. It also cooperates with civil society and the business sector. UNCTAD has 193 Member States. Its annual operational budget is approximately US$50 million, which is drawn from the United Nations regular budget. Technical cooperation activities, which have developed as a result of UNCTAD’s sectoral expertise and are financed from extra-budgetary resources, amount to approximately US$31,5 million in 2007. The Secretary-General of UNCTAD is Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi who took up office on 1 September 2005. UNCTAD has a staff of about 400.

II. Engagement with External Actors

UNCTAD views NGOs and the private sector as full-fledged partners in its activities, allowing the Organization to have a better understanding of the concerns of members of civil society and to supply a better response to their specific needs and requirements. UNCTAD reaches out to non-governmental stakeholders in various ways, including through the dissemination of its work via a number of informal channels (using the networks of associated institutions and actors) and through informal meetings and dialogue.

Civil Society

UNCTAD cooperates with civil society actors by setting up formal and informal mechanisms for NGO participation and contribution to UNCTAD’s activities, including participation in conferences, workshops and seminars, producing copublications, information-sharing and policy analysis through exchange of ideas and implementation of technical cooperation programmes. The Civil Society Outreach Unit organizes regular consultations, briefings and seminars with civil society organizations. UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Board (TDB) has institutionalized hearings with civil society and the private sector since 2004. Such hearings are now convened as part of the annual session of the TDB.

Arrangements for the participation of NGOs concerned with trade and development in the activities of UNCTAD are governed by Rule 77 of the Rules of Procedure of the TDB. This Board establishes relationship arrangements with NGOs for the purpose of enabling UNCTAD, the TDB and its subsidiary bodies to secure information or advice from organizations having special competence on subjects for which relationship arrangements are made, and to enable organizations representing important elements of public opinion to express their views. The TDB distinguishes between NGOs that have a basic interest in most of the activities of the TDB which are placed in the general category, and those having a special competence in specific activities, which are placed in the special category. NGOs in status receive regular notifications of and documentation for conferences and meetings convened by UNCTAD. Their representatives are entitled to participate as observers in the public meetings of the intergovernmental bodies. Such representatives may make oral statements on matters falling within the scope of their activities and may circulate written statements on matters related to agenda items of these meetings.

National NGOs of recognized standing, which are deemed to have a significant contribution to make to the work of UNCTAD, may be entered by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD in a Register established for this purpose after prior consultations with appropriate representatives of the respective Member States concerned. National NGOs receive UNCTAD’s documentation.

Extent of Collaboration

Partnerships are an important element in the engagement with NGOs. Examples include:

Advisory Services on Investment and Training (ASIT)
ASIT has been providing services to developing countries and countries with economies in transition to increase their capacity to attract and benefit from foreign direct investment (FDI). ASIT activities do include cooperation with the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA)—an NGO made up of over 225 investment promotion agencies worldwide. The cooperation is in line with the Partnership for Development Initiative launched at UNCTAD XI (Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 2004). As part of the Partnership, joint training workshops in best practices for investment promotion and investor targeting are organized with a host country institution within the context of ASIT’s ongoing technical cooperation programme. Through WAIPA, but also independently, private companies can participate in ASIT workshops and contribute their expertise and perspective to these events. Some partners have also provided logistical support to conferences and other events organized by ASIT and WAIPA.

Virtual Institute
UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute seeks to create a global network of higher learning and research on trade and development issues to equip future generations of decision makers with the capacity to make informed choices about the economic development of their countries. The Institute aims to assist academic institutions around the world that wish to enhance their curricula, knowledge, training skills and research expertise in the areas of trade, investment and development. It provides open access to selected UNCTAD resources (readings and presentations) and pedagogical tools to help interested institutions develop their own high-quality training materials. It also hosts a network of academic institutions committed to sharing material, expertise and experience to enhance their training and research activities.

UNCTAD/UNDP Global Programme on Globalization and Sustainable Human Development
This arrangement provides a forum for close collaboration with governments, NGOs, academic organizations and the private sector to assist governments to create strategies for managing their integration into the world economy, in a manner conducive to sustainable human development.

Private Sector and Civil Society Dialogue Events
A series of discussion fora and workshops involving civil society, private sector and academia are organized to provide a forum for dialogue on investment regimes and international investment issues.5 UNCTAD’s work programme on international investment agreements4 (IIAs) has undertaken several capacity-building activities in cooperation with civil society and academic institutions. The training sessions for negotiators of IIAs are organized in cooperation with local universities. In 2004, the joint UNCTAD-CUTS (Consumer Unity and Trust Society of India) project on “Awareness and capacity building for civil society on investment regimes and international investment issues” sought to address the need for involvement and capacity building for civil society in this area.

Training Courses and Seminars on International Trade Issues
UNCTAD provides training courses and seminars on international trade issues for policy makers, government officials, trainers, business people and parliamentarians at the national or the regional level.

Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Debt
UNCTAD is a member of the core team guiding the multi-stakeholder consultation process on “sovereign debt for sustained development,” led by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Financing for Development Office.5 The consultations aim to take stock, at both the policy and operational level, of ways in which the challenges to developing and transition economies in the use of sovereign external debt can be mitigated and to elicit views and proposals from the different perspectives of all relevant stakeholder involved in debt issues, including those of civil society.

The debt consultation process has been structured to build an inclusive multistakeholder meeting (for governments, international financial institutions, private sector, academics and civil society). A global level meeting was organized in conjunction with UNCTAD’s Fifth Inter-Regional Debt Management Conference in June 2005. It served as the third and final round of consultations organized as part of the multi-stakeholder dialogue.

Private Sector

UNCTAD cooperates with the private sector in research and technical cooperation in the areas of international trade, transport, investment, development finance and technology. Private sector representatives participate in seminars, workshops and conferences. For specific operational projects, UNCTAD’s divisions and programmes work directly and in partnership with private sector actors.

Extent of Collaboration

The following are a few examples of programmes undertaken by UNCTAD with the private sector:

Commodity Exchange Development Programme
Since the early 1990s, UNCTAD has worked actively with the private sector and governments of many countries to develop commodity exchanges. UNCTAD has undertaken a wide range of activities necessary to enable the successful development of such exchanges, including assistance to the private sector in developing business plans and structuring the necessary partnerships for effective use of commodity exchanges. Several new exchanges have been formed as a result of this work.

African Oil Trade and Finance Programme
Since 1995, UNCTAD has been working with private sector companies and banks involved in this sector, and other stakeholders on the interface between oil and finance, covering issues such as oil trade and project finance, improving the part of oil revenue retained in Africa, and managing budgets in the face of volatile prices. The programme includes analysis, advice, awareness-raising, training, institutionbuilding and match-making activities. The flagship event is the African Oil & Gas Trade and Finance Conference7 which attracts many of the continent’s key energy sector decision-makers, and is entirely funded through private sector sponsoring.

BIOTRADE Initiative
UNCTAD launched the BIOTRADE Initiative in 1996 to foster the development of the sectors for biodiversity products and services and promote simultaneously the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity resources in developing countries. The BIOTRADE Initiative seeks to respond to a number of issues in an integrated manner: stimulating public and private investment partnerships in biological resource-based products and services while enhancing the capacity of developing countries to enhance its supply capacity; meet domestic and international environmental regulations; and seek greater access to world markets for biodiversity products produced in a sustainable manner in developing countries. The Initiative undertakes economic and market assessment research, promotes training and capacity building, develops alternative partnership arrangements and strategies for biological resource conservation and development, and promotes information dissemination, networking and active private sector involvement.

This initiative provides assistance to governments and the private sector in their negotiations with foreign investors, especially transnational corporations (TNCs).

This integrated capacity-building programme promotes the creation of sustainable small and medium enterprise (SME) support structures to help promising entrepreneurs build innovative and internationally competitive SMEs. Over the years, Empretec has collaborated with many public institutions, bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, private sector organizations and large companies.

Business Linkages Programme
Business linkages between large enterprises, such as TNCs and local suppliers, can be a channel for the transfer of technology, knowledge and skills to host economies. UNCTAD is able to provide a combination of advisory and technical assistance services in the field of foreign direct investment and enterprise development.

Indigenous Peoples

UNCTAD convened an Expert Meeting in 2000 to address the protection of knowledge, innovations and practices of local and indigenous communities and to enhance cooperation on research and development on technologies associated with the sustainable use of biological resources. Traditional Knowledge (TK) has been addressed as part of UNCTAD’s work in the area of trade and environment. The UNCTAD Secretariat has been working closely with the secretariats of other intergovernmental organizations, in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and encourages indigenous people to participate in TK-related activities.


UNCTAD works with several representative associations of parliamentarians. UNCTAD and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) have had constant and close interaction for several decades, and there has been growing mutual interest in recent years to build up stronger ties between the two organizations. This culminated in the parliamentary meetings on the occasion of UNCTAD X and UNCTAD XI. Parliamentarians and the IPU Secretariat participate in UNCTAD’s events and meetings to exchange views and to discuss issues of mutual concern to both organizations.

III. Organizational Resources

Contact Info

Name: Ms. Amel Haffouz
Title: Civil Society Outreach Unit
Address: UNCTAD, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
Telephone: +41-22-917-5048
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

IV. Information Resources

1. UNCTAD Website: (www.unctad.org)
2. Advisory Services on Investment and Training: (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Inv...)
3. UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute: (http://vi.unctad.org/)
4. Global Programme on Globalization and Sustainable Human Development: (www.unctad-undp.org)
5. International Investment Agreements: (www.unctad.org/iia)
6. Debt Portal and Debt Management: (http://www.unctad.info...) and (http://vi.unctad.org/debt/debt/m2/S...)
7. African Oil & Gas Trade and Finance Conference: (http://www.ogtfafrica.com/)
8. BIOTRADE Initiative: (www.biotrade.org)
10. Empretec: (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Ent...)
11. Business Linkages Programme: (http://unctad.org/en/Docs/ditcted20...)

Additional Resources
* Information on UNCTAD-Civil Society Dialogue: (www.unctad.org/en/docs/poiss...)
* Trade and Development Report: (www.unctad.org/Templates/Pag...)
* World Investment Report: (www.unctad.org/Templates/Pag...)
* Economic Development in Africa Series: (www.unctad.org/Templates/Pag...)
* Least Developed Countries Report: (www.unctad.org/Templates/Pag...)

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


YouTube Channel

Visit https://www.youtube.com/unngls for many more!


Featured UN-NGLS Reports

UNDS review NGLS civil society consultation summary website cover


Regional Recommendations 217px


UN NGLS Decent Work Fair Globalization Guide featured



OHCHR Report: Safe & Enabling Environment for Civil Society

OHCHR Civil society report2