United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD is the part of the United Nations dealing with economic and sustainable development, focusing on trade, finance, investment and technology. It helps developing countries to participate fairly in the global economy.

UNCTAD conducts economic research, publishes innovative analyses and makes policy recommendations to support government decision-making. UNCTAD also brings together representatives of all countries to talk freely, share experiences and tackle important issues in the global economy. It promotes consensus at the multilateral level.

In addition, by turning research findings into practical applications and offering direct technical assistance, UNCTAD helps countries improve the well-being of their citizens.

UNCTAD and Voluntary Sustainability Standards

UNCTAD supports the adoption of Voluntary Sustainability Standards in developing countries because they can improve access to more profitable markets.

In this way, Voluntary Sustainability Standards can help grow the economies of developing countries which, in turn, leads to social development and environmental sustainability – as well as positively contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But complying to Voluntary Sustainability Standards can be a big challenge, especially for smallholder farms and other small-scale businesses. This is because they tend to be costly and complex, and often people don’t know enough about them.

So UNCTAD aims to:

   Increase the ability of countries to boost green exports, and do so sustainably

   Establish a platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards that leads to better communication and coordination among stakeholders

   Equip countries with better knowledge on Voluntary Sustainability Standards so they can use them strategically

UNCTAD does this by, among other things, maintaining a unique global database of regulatory measures, including those protecting human health and the environment.

The database contains detailed information on these measures (non-tariff measures), including sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT).

Many of measures are understood to be regulatory standards, and Voluntary Sustainable Standards can become regulatory standards when they become part of national regulations.

UNCTAD VSS Related Projects

Fostering Green Exports Through VSS

With the growing consumer interest for “green” or “sustainable” products, major retailors increasingly opt for products that claim to be sustainable.

One way a product can claim to be “green” is through using Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS). Complying with VSS can help improve access to more profitable markets and its price premiums can lead to increased profits. They can help developing countries transmit trade-induced economic growth to social development and environmental sustainability. VSS can also positively contribute to the country’s capacity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However certifying for VSS can be a big challenge, especially for small-scale producers due to its high certification costs, complexity of the certification process, and lack of knowledge.

Therefore this project aims to:

  • Increase national capacity to enhance “greener” sustainable exports
  • Establish a multi-stakeholder platform on VSS that could lead to more communication and coordinated efforts among stakeholders
  • Equip countries with better knowledge on VSS so they would be able to strategize how VSS could contribute to its inclusive economic growth and sustainable development

The target countries for this project are Vanuatu, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Philippines.

BioTrade Initiative

UNCTAD’s BioTrade Initiative helps countries to harmonize economic development with the conservation of native biodiversity through the trade of goods and services derived from unique plants and animals. In the past 20 years, several organizations and companies in many countries have taken up the BioTrade Initiative, its principles and criteria, in a variety of sectors.

For more information, please refer to the publication – 20 Years of Bio Trade.

Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs)

Non-tariff measures (NTMs) are policy measures other than tariffs that can potentially have an economic effect on international trade in goods. They are increasingly shaping trade, influencing who trades what and how much. For exporters, importers and policymakers, NTMs represent a major challenge. Though many NTMs aim primarily at protecting public health or the environment, they also substantially affect trade through information, compliance and procedural costs.

Understanding the uses and implications of NTMs is essential for the formulation of effective development strategies to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNCTAD’s NTM Hub serves as a gateway to that end, providing information on classification, data, research and analysis and policy support. Increasing transparency and understanding of NTMs can build capacity of policymakers, trade negotiators and researchers to strike the delicate balance between the reduction of trade costs and the preservation of public objectives.

National Green Export Reviews

UNCTAD’s technical assistance activities to advance a green economy
Through National Green Export Reviews (NGERs) UNCTAD responds to growing demand in developing countries and countries with transition economies for assessments of national potential to advance the development of green sectors in order to generate new employment and export opportunities while promoting sustainable development. Within these technical assistance projects, UNCTAD works in a close partnership with interested countries through an interactive national stakeholder process to first identify their most internationally competitive green sectors, and then to design and implement policies and to establish regulatory and institutional frameworks, as well as cooperative G2B and B2B actions, to strengthen the capacity, efficiency and further enhance the competitiveness of these sectors.

As of June 2017, UNCTAD has engaged in NGERs with Ecuador, Vanuatu, Morocco, Ethiopia, Oman, Madagascar, Lebanon, Moldova and Senegal. While several of these projects have reached completion, many remain ongoing. NGERs for Angola and Armenia are in preparation.

To date, financial support for NGERs has been provided by UNCTAD and the United Nations Development Account under project 1415L. Senegal’s NGER is mainly funded through a grant from the Islamic Development Bank, which also provides substantive support to the project.

For more information on NGERs please consult the following:
NGER Brief

Fostering Green Exports

VSS can make a difference for business


No longer a “Niche” Market: VSS are Moving into Mainstream


UNCTAD NTMs Database

The classification of NTMs follows a taxonomy of all measures considered relevant in today’s international trade. It comprises technical measures, such as sanitary or environmental protection measures. Moreover, it also includes other measures traditionally used as instruments of commercial policy, e.g. quotas, price control, exports restrictions, or contingent trade protective measures. Finally, the MAST NTM classification also comprises behind-the-border measures, such as competition, trade-related investment measures, government procurement or distribution restrictions.


Classification of Non_tariff Measures

Classification of Non-tariff Measures – (2012 VERSION)

UNCTAD’s NTM data is made publicly available through two portals, TRAINS and WITS. NTMs have been collected from official sources, mainly national laws and regulations.

  • Trade Analysis Information System (TRAINS): TRAINS provides data on NTMs at the HS 6-digit product classification. The data is provided systematically by country, type of NTM, affected product and partner country and has about 30 variables including the source of information, dates, textual descriptions etc. Moreover, researchers interested in NTMs can download a STATA dataset with additional variables.


  • World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS): WITS integrates TRAINS with other trade-related databases, such as UN COMTRADE, WTO Integrated Data Base (IDB) and WTO Consolidated Tariff Schedules (CTS). As a result, WITS offers an interface that provides access to databases covering imports, exports and protection data — tariff and non-tariff measures — over time. Users may obtain detailed data for individual countries. They may also create their own country and product aggregation. The registration is free