United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)


Globalization, including a phenomenal expansion of trade, has helped lift millions out of poverty. But not nearly enough people have benefited. And tremendous challenges remain.

We support developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively. And we help equip them to deal with the potential drawbacks of greater economic integration. To do this, we provide analysis, facilitate consensus-building, and offer technical assistance. This helps them to use trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

Description of Activities on AI

Project 1: Digital Economy Report 2021

The Digital Economy Report 2021, with the title of “Cross-border data flows and development: For whom the data flow”, focuses on the international dimension of digital data, which are the main ingredient for artificial intelligence. The Report takes stock of recent trends in the global data-driven digital landscape and examines opportunities and challenges for developing countries to benefit from it. It also highlights the links to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic as this has led to an acceleration of digitalization trends and cross-border data flows have significantly increased during the pandemic. The Report considers the ongoing discussions and provides a review of the literature on the implications of cross-border data flows and their regulation, with a focus on the development perspective. It also looks at the different policies that countries are applying in what regards cross-border data flows, exploring their advantages and disadvantages, particularly for developing countries. The Report then discusses the evolution of the different approaches to regulate cross-border data flows at the international and regional level. It concludes by providing policy recommendations for finding a balancing approach that may allow for moving forward in the regulation of cross-border data flows in a productive manner.

Project 2: Technology and Innovation Report 2021

The Technology and Innovation Report 2021, titled “Catching technological waves: Innovation with equity,” critically examines the possibility of frontier technologies such as AI, robotics and gene-editing widening existing inequalities and creating new ones. The Report focuses on low and middle-income developing countries and least developed countries, as well as on the most vulnerable segments of societies, while providing discussion on the effects on high-income countries as parts of the broader context and major drivers of frontier technologies. The Report argues that frontier technologies are essential for sustainable development, but they also could accentuate initial inequalities. It is up to policies to reduce this risk and make frontier technologies contribute to increasing equality. Low- and middle-income developing countries and the least developing countries cannot afford to miss the new wave of rapid technological change. Harnessing this new technological revolution will require countries to promote the use, adoption and adaptation of frontier technologies. A balanced approach building a robust industrial base and promoting frontier technologies is a must for success in the twenty-first century.

Project 3: Interagency coordination on STI for SDGs

UNCTAD co-leads together with DESA the UN interagency task team on STI for the SDGs, which is part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism of the Agenda 2030. The interagency task prepares the Multistakeholder STI Forum, which has discussed the impact of key rapid technological changes on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Common to these activities is the continuous broad discussion with the involvement of all stakeholders on the impacts of new technologies and the need for technical assessments of these impacts that systematically use models, scenarios and foresight exercises to make clear the assumptions and the most relevant policy areas when considering the impact of these technologies.

Related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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