Annual report 2023

Trade: Unlocking sustainable strategies for people, planet and prosperity

The year 2023 presented a complex landscape of global challenges, testing our resilience while revealing new opportunities for cooperation. Though some economies seem to have navigated a ‘soft landing’, many developing countries continue to suffer disproportionately. Weak growth, investment and trade, wars, growing debt burdens and the ongoing climate crisis continue to underscore the need to fight complacency and bring about transformative change.

Throughout this turbulence, UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not only remained steadfast but has pushed on, adapting to meet evolving needs. In these pivotal times, we have increased and updated our technical cooperation toolkit, shed light on emerging global trends through world-class research, and bolstered our capacity to build consensus.

In 2023, we released over 146 reports, including our seven flagships. These explored complex issues ranging from a “Blue Deal” to safeguard ocean resources, to updating the financing gap for the Sustainable Development Goals in the developing world; from Africa’s critical minerals potential for structural transformation, to measuring trade geopolitics; from providing timely, ahead-of-the-curve data for negotiations in the Black Sea, to uncovering the mounting debt crisis in the Global South.

Likewise, the yearly report by UNCTAD on its assistance to the Palestinian people, submitted pursuant to United Nations General Assembly resolution 77/22, was delivered at the end of 2023. The report sheds light on the very precarious situation in which the Palestinian people were living, even before the current conflict and humanitarian crisis started.

At the same time, reforms undertaken in 2022 to strengthen UNCTAD statistical capacity began to bear fruit last year, with important outputs delivered on areas such as Beyond GDP, SDG costing exercises at the national level, and measuring synergies within SDG transition pathways. At the same time, we are reinforcing our role as United Nations custodians on measuring and analysing South–South cooperation.

An initiative to bring a holistic strategy for small island developing states was agreed with relevant stakeholders, to be presented in 2024. The inter-divisional gender working group created in 2022 began to convene expert level consultations with policymakers and academics studying trade and development from a gender perspective, with the view of developing a stronger gender and trade analysis.

Last year, our commitment to finding solutions was underlined by our resolve to grow through collaboration. We worked closely with the Secretary-General office in New York and other United Nations agencies and regional economic commissions, as exemplified by our co-authorship of the World of Debt report, as well as three distinct policy briefs in preparation for the Summit of the Future on Beyond GDP, the International Financial Architecture, and the Global Digital Compact. And our growing participation in international forums such as the Group of 20, UN climate change conference COP28, and African Union Summit allowed us to bring the perspectives of developing countries to the forefront of global discussions, a task bolstered by the deliberations of our own Board – and related forums and commissions – whose consensus-building capacity is strengthening.

Thanks to the stronger engagement and greater interaction from our member States, last year we organized 245 intergovernmental meetings, up from 198 in 2022. The number of people attending our meetings grew even more rapidly – with a significant increase in event registrations compared to 2022: from 12,986 in 2022 to 18,526 in 2023 (42 per cent increase).

We also organized induction courses for new delegates. These sessions were coordinated with various UNCTAD divisions to provide new delegates with comprehensive information on the functioning of the organization’s intergovernmental machinery. 

At the same time, we deepened our engagement in New York-based consensus-building efforts. UNCTAD was instrumental in building consensus at the Economic and Financial Committee of the General Assembly (Second Committee) on several key development issues. UNCTAD took the lead in preparing and presenting the reports of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the following resolutions: international trade, commodities, investment, information and communication technologies, science, technology and innovation, the creative economy, debt sustainability, and illicit financial flows.

Furthermore, UNCTAD directly supported the month-long negotiation of seven of the 41 resolutions considered by the Second Committee during its 78th session. We have also increased our strategic engagement with the private sector – with the International Chamber of Commerce on the Black Sea Initiative, with the maritime industry to push for a transition to sustainable fuels, with the investment community of our World Investment Forum – in the belief that they too play a vital role in shaping a better future. These partnerships have ensured that our research and analysis does not stay just in the ink and paper of the reports we work so hard to produce, but shapes the responses needed to address the challenges we face.

A measure of our effectiveness is our ability to communicate effectively. Last year, UNCTAD hit new milestones by crossing the millionth mark in publication downloads, receiving more than eight million visitors to our website, and engaging nearly one million followers on social media. At the same time, we also made concrete progress towards a renewed, strategically managed brand, ahead of the organization’s 60-year anniversary in June 2024.

The path ahead remains perilous, but we find hope in our work, our partnerships, and our commitment to our mandate. As we approach our 60th anniversary in 2024 and UNCTAD16 in 2025, we are re-energized and more determined than ever to advance trade and development for all. The future depends on our collective ability to rise to the challenge, and UNCTAD will be at the vanguard of that effort.

Rebeca Grynspan
UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
Annual report 2023 - Trade: Unlocking sustainable strategies for people, planet and prosperity  (UNCTAD/OSG/2024/1)
5 Jun 2024