Legal and Regulatory Framework > United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Assistance to WTO accession

WTO accession is a very long and complex negotiation process which requires extensive human resources and institutional capacities: every negotiation sector is highly technical and requires its own sectoral experts. A number of acceding countries, particularly LDCs and small economies, face particular constraints and challenges, such as: limited understanding of the scope and complexity of obligations associated with joining the WTO; lack of experience and skills in trade-related negotiations; limited analytical capacity to support trade and impact analysis; limited availability of the required data and information; lack of resources to respond to information requests during the accession process; limited skills in developing mechanisms to implement legislation; and poor coordination between ministries and other stakeholders. In order to benefit from further integration and participation in the multilateral trading system, developing countries need to be assisted to deal with the growing complexity of accession issues, which is putting a strain on their resources. In response to this challenge, and in line with the mandate agreed during UNCTAD IX in 1996 and reconfirmed at UNCTAD X in 2000 and UNCTAD XI in 2004, the UNCTAD Secretariat has developed an extensive programme of assistance for developing countries, economies in transition and LDCs prior to, during and after their accession to the WTO. In addition, the Accra Accord (UNCTAD XII - 2008) mandated UNCTAD to “continue to monitor and assess the evolution of the international trading system and of trends in international trade from a development perspective and, in particular, analyse issues of concern to developing countries, placing greater emphasis on practical solutions” and “help develop capacities in developing countries and countries with economies in transition to establish their own negotiating priorities, and their capacity to negotiate and implement bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agreements”.

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Implementation and administration of the Agreement on the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP)

Developing countries established the GSTP Agreement in 1988 to promote and sustain mutual trade and the development of economic cooperation among them, through the exchange of concessions in accordance with the terms of the Agreement, which entered into force in 1990. Accession to the Agreement is open to developing countries who are members of the Group of 77 and their subregional, regional and inter-regional groupings. As of writing, there are 43 parties to the Agreement (“Participants”). The GSTP Committee of Participants, composed of representatives of governments of Participants, performs such functions as facilitating the operation and furthering the objectives of the Agreement. Financed by GSTP Participants, the GSTP Project extends technical and administrative support to the Committee.

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Technical cooperation in the area of competition and consumers’ law and policy

UNCTAD provides capacity-building and technical assistance to developing countries (especially LDCs) and economies in transition) which seek to formulate and implement competition law and policy. The objective of the capacity-building and technical cooperation activities is to assist these countries, inter alia, in the following areas:

  • Formulating new or strengthening existing competition legislation which fits their specific legal and economic structure and can best address their development needs;
  • Establishing new or strengthening existing competition institutions;
  • Capacity-building for the better enforcement of competition law;
  • Promoting a competition culture through competition advocacy activities;
  • Conducting voluntary peer reviews of competition law and policy.

To achieve these objectives, UNCTAD works closely with competition authorities in developed countries, development partners, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Competition Network (ICN), and competition experts.

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UNCTAD Training Programmes


The UNCTAD TrainForTrade programme focuses on developing and strengthening human resources and institutional capacities involved in international trade, trade related services, finance, investment and port management. This is done by implementing different training courses and activities; supporting institutional frameworks for trade related issues at national and international level; and promoting trade and investment policies for a dynamic, equitable and sustainable development.

The UNCTAD TrainForTrade courses are developed following the programme’s methodology, in close collaboration with the government and other stakeholders in order to address a country’s training needs. Local experts receive training through the Tran For Trade training programme to enable them to become trainers on trade-related issues. This creates local ownership to and sustainability of the capacity development process. The TrainForTrade programme develops high quality courses and maintains high standard delivery by using technological means such as e-learning, m-learning and cloud learning. It combines face-to-face activities with e-learning courses, and ensures that the pedagogic aspects of training are not undermined by technology. At the same time, the use of ICTs as a tool for knowledge-sharing increases the number of beneficiaries while reducing cost.

The UNCTAD TrainForTrade programme emphasises the importance of developing local services by local people for local people. The development of platforms based on smart integration of open source components is encouraged in order to easily share technology with partners.

It offers a wide variety of courses intended to foster the abilities of countries to benefit from trade and investment in for different areas: port training: investment issues: trade related issues and pedagogical courses.

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UNCTAD Virtual Institute on Trade and Development

The UNCTAD Virtual Institute (Vi) is a capacity-building and networking programme whose objective is to strengthen professional capacities on trade and development issues at developing and transition country universities and help these universities increase the policy orientation and relevance of their work. The Vi supports its member universities in the long term by providing services in four areas:

  • Course design and delivery: The Vi provides advice on the design of courses and programmes and develops teaching materials on trade and development issues, which the universities subsequently adapt to the conditions in their countries by adding data and analysis on the country, translating into local languages, etc.
  • Professional development for university staff: The Vi offers training and learning opportunities, both for groups of researchers (regional and national workshops) and for individuals (mentoring, especially to junior researchers who work on research projects of specific interest to their universities, either in Geneva
  • in the framework of the Vi fellowship programme, or at a distance).
  • Training for students: The main target of the Vi is university staff who subsequently teach students in their own countries. Exceptionally, the Vi also offers direct training for students when the involvement of international experts provides an added value that the students could not get at their universities.
  • This is done through videoconferences and tailored training programmes for students at Geneva-based organizations (study tours).
  • Cooperation within the network: In addition to working bilaterally with the universities, the Vi also draws on the potential of South-South and North-South cooperation in its university network and supports exchanges of experiences and joint projects among the members in the areas of research, development of teaching material and professional development.

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Regional training course: Key Issues on the International Economic Agenda

This flagship UNCTAD training course on trade and development is delivered on a regional basis to developing countries and countries in transition. It is primarily aimed at policy makers with backgrounds in economics, business, international relations, international law or public administration who work on international economic issues and related policies. Academics teaching or researching these issues can also attend. The course focuses on the links between trade, investment, finance and development, the design and implementation of related policies, and international negotiations of trade and development issues, with a focus on the needs and interests of developing and transition countries. Its individual modules deal with developmental aspects of trade and financial systems, foreign direct investment and enterprise development, the information economy, international trade and transport facilitation, and multilateral and regional trade agreements. The course culminates with a final simulation exercise, allowing the participants to use their gradually built-up knowledge to take on roles in an international negotiation, most often of a current WTO issue. The course programme integrates global, regional and national perspectives on trade, finance, investment and development issues and is designed with the collaboration of regional commissions, international experts and national experts from the host country.

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Short courses on key international economic issues for Geneva-based diplomats

The objective of the short courses is to update Geneva-based policymakers on the most recent issues and developments on the international economic agenda, so that they can provide relevant information and advice to their governments and best represent the interests of their countries in international negotiations. The course programmes are demand-driven: the diplomats themselves propose areas on which they would require updating. Their suggestions are complemented by courses on emerging topics on which UNCTAD and its individual divisions conduct research work. Six courses are organized every year, divided in spring and autumn terms.

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Strengthening of policy-making, negotiations and promotion of international trade in services

UNCTAD’s innovative work on trade in services in terms of ground-level support and country and sector-specific assessments has the objective of helping countries to assess the contribution of services, reform the sector with an emphasis on development, including strengthening access to essential services, and generate important data and reference material for multilateral and regional trade negotiations.

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Assistance on trade policy making and negotiations

UNCTAD assists developing countries and LDCs to better understand the technical issues involved in tradepolicy making and negotiations at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, to carefully assess the state of play with regard to the different elements of the negotiating agenda and the development implicationsof each negotiating proposal, to pursue their strategic interests in the negotiations, and to ensure that theoutcomes duly reflect their critical developmental concerns and interests.

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Assistance on the utilization of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)

UNCTAD has continued promoting awareness and understanding among developing countries of how to better utilize preferences available under the GSP by the regular provision of information on a dedicated website, the publication of handbooks on the GSP schemes, and the provision of other technical and administrative services.

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Investment policies and investment promotion

UNCTAD is the focal point within the United Nations Secretariat for matters related to foreign direct investment (FDI). The objectives here are:

  • To improve the understanding of developing countries and economies in transition o f policy choices;
  • To strengthen their abilities to formulate and implement policies, measures and action programmes;
  • To promote understanding of emerging issues, including the role of international arrangements for the purpose of attracting and benefiting from FDI.

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International Investment Agreements (IIAs)

UNCTAD supports developing countries to better understand key and emerging issues related to IIAs and their development dimension and to enhance their capacity in negotiating and implementing investment treaties and managing investor-states disputes. This is achieved through:

  • Publications: The series on Issues in IIAs is a learning and reference tool for negotiators and lawmakersfrom both developed and developing countries. The series, International Investment Policies for Development, provides analysis of technical issues that arise in the context of international investment rulemaking and their impact on development. Four databases provide information on bilateral investment treaties, double taxation treaties, other agreements with investment provisions, and investor-state dispute settlement cases.
  • Technical assistance.

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Intellectual property and development

UNCTAD XII reconfirmed UNCTAD’s mandate for examining the development dimensions of intellectual property rights. In this context, UNCTAD:

  • Advises client countries on appropriate intellectual property frameworks;
  • Builds capacity in the design and implementation of intellectual property laws;
  • Advises on establishing local pharmaceutical supply capacities in line with client countries’ public health objectives.

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