Man carrying plastic water containers.

Global trade in plastics tops a whopping $1 trillion each year, or 5% of total merchandise trade. This is 40% higher than previous estimates and involves virtually all nations. The fresh insights into the massive extent of plastics in world trade have emerged from a new UNCTAD research paper, “Global trade in plastics: insights from the first life-cycle trade database.” The study is the first attempt to map and quantify global trade flows across the entire life cycle of plastics – from raw inputs to final products and waste.

Two tugboats next to a big cargo ship full of containers.

The gigantic cargo ship that ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal last week is afloat once again after a Herculean salvage operation, but the damage to global trade will take months to fix.

Tourist boats cruising the Zambezi River

Zambia’s coronavirus lockdown shut down some more traditional businesses, but for e-commerce firms this was their chance to scale up operations. AfriDelivery, a food delivery service with big dreams of becoming a business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce platform, recorded 100% growth in annual terms in 2020. Despite the opportunities, the pandemic also brought many challenges and unforeseen costs for e-commerce firms. UNCTAD is working to ensure e-commerce is mainstreamed into national development plans and development partners’ cooperation frameworks.

Woman wearing a facemask pulls down her sleeve to get the vaccine.

New projections show stronger growth than expected in 2021, but the untackled problems of inequality, indebtedness and weak investment threaten hopes for a more resilient future. The global economy is set to grow by 4.7% this year, faster than predicted in September (4.3%), thanks in part to a stronger recovery in the United States, where progress in distributing vaccines and a fresh fiscal stimulus of $1.9 trillion are expected to boost consumer spending, says the update to UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report 2020.

women traders walking

Charity Chimphamba, a Malawian small-scale trader, had a thriving business before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In the wake of COVID-19, Ms. Chimphamba’s revenue fell by 60%, mainly due to higher costs of buying goods through transport companies and sourcing them locally. Ms. Chimphamba was among 131 small-scale cross-border traders, 120 of them women, who attended UNCTAD training workshops held in border towns of Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia in February.

A small-holder farmer in Cambodia

With the help of partners, UNICEF has used blockchain technology to create a fund to raise donations of cryptocurrencies for its work. Beyond financial applications an UNCTAD paper points at blockchain’s potential towards sustainable development. UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021 says frontier technologies such as blockchain could promote development if governments implement policies that maximize their potential benefits, while mitigating harmful outcomes. Otherwise, they could worsen existing inequalities, as has occurred with previous waves of technological change.

man launching a drone

A few developing nations are exhibiting stronger capabilities to use, adopt and adapt frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest, but most are lagging behind, according to an index of 158 countries in UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021. Frontier technologies are those that take advantage of digitalization and connectivity. They include artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic.

man working with drill

The Productive Capacities Index (PCI) is an UNCTAD online portal with publications, manuals, resources and tools that allow policymakers to measure their countries’ performance in achieving their national development goals, as well as their ability to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).