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

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.

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.

Fostering Green Exports Through VSS

VSS can make a difference for business


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


UNCTAD NTMs Database

Classification of Non_tariff Measures

Classification of Non-tariff Measures – (2012 VERSION)