In the early 1960s, growing concerns about the place of developing countries in international trade led many of these countries to call for the convening of a full-fledged conference specifically devoted to tackling these problems and identifying appropriate international actions.
The first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was held in Geneva in 1964. Given the magnitude of the problems at stake and the need to address them, the conference was institutionalized to meet every four years, with intergovernmental bodies meeting between sessions and a permanent secretariat providing the necessary substantive and logistical support.
In recent years, UNCTAD has
- focused its analytical research on the linkages between trade, investment, technology and enterprise development.
- put forward a "positive agenda" for developing countries in international trade negotiations, designed to assist developing countries in better understanding the complexity of the multilateral trade negotiations and in formulating their positions.
- Expanded work on international investment issues, following the merger into UNCTAD of the New York–based United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations in 1993.
- expanded and diversified its technical assistance, which today covers a wide range of areas, including 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.