Trade and Commerce

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.

high rise buildings

The crisis has hit small and medium enterprises especially hard, causing massive job losses and other economic scars. Among these—less noticeable, but also serious—is rising market power among dominant firms as they emerge even stronger while smaller rivals fall away.


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.

Workers stand facing a conveyor belt processing bananas.

Nearly every business in the world has been affected by COVID-19. While one-fourth of companies saw sales falling 50 percent in October-January from pre-pandemic levels, a third said their sales increased or stayed the same. Capturing the impact of the pandemic on businesses, the World Bank analysis reflects the performance of more than 120,000 firms in over 60 countries. The assessment is expected to help inform recovery efforts. In developing countries, despite government programmes  –  businesses most affected by the shock – were the least likely to receive government support.

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.

A ground up view of shipping containers as an airplane passes by in the sky.

As part of their Americas strategies for COVID-19 response and aviation recovery, ICAO has contributed to the development of the new multilateral agreement to liberalize air cargo services in the region. The agreement comes into effect immediately among its ten signatories and establishes expanded traffic rights permitting regional airlines to provide all-cargo services between two other States without restrictions on routes and capacity. The 10 states involved are Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. 

The Trade Facilitation West Africa programme managed by the World Bank focuses on reducing trade barriers for small-scale cross-border traders in West Africa.

Bees in a honey comb.

The government sees honey as a product that could help diversify the country’s oil-dependent economy and is working with UNCTAD and the European Union to improve production and boost exports. Angola currently produces 90 tons of honey each year, but an UNCTAD analysis showed that Angola’s 100,000 or so beekeepers – mostly small entrepreneurs – could easily more than double production to 200 tons. It’s possible to produce honey in every region.

Man wearing a mask in front on a ship boarding ramp.

ILO has called for urgent and coordinated action to release the 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world because of measures to contain the COVID-19 virus.

Jujube plantation

A small business making natural products from jujube and tamarind has kept its doors open and workers safe thanks to the BioTrade principles and criteria for the sustainable commerce of plant and animal-based goods and services adopted before the pandemic. Besides being turned into healthy juices and syrups, the Jujube tree’s red fruit, commonly known as a red or Chinese date, is a key ingredient in traditional medicines. A slight drop in turnover hasn’t put the company’s future in jeopardy, which is important for women’s economic empowerment in the township, as 90% of factory employees are female.

Man harvesting seaweed from a small boat.

Impact of COVID-19 epidemic hits Indonesia’s small seaweed processors

Man reaching out for coffee beans in a tree.

UNCTAD works with farmers and other local players in Angola’s coffee sector to assess how producers and exporters can better position themselves within the global value chain. The country aims to reclaim its former glory as one of Africa’s top coffee exporters to diversify an economy that has become highly dependent on oil exports. Coffee grown in Angola’s highlands once provided half of its foreign exchange earnings until the nation fell into a decades-long civil war.

Woman in a crowd clapping.

UNCTAD features resilience during COVID-19. As doors close, others open as heightened concerns over hygiene restricted cash transactions and pushed more business operations online.

Two pilots inside the cockpit while flying.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) brings attention to new measures aimed at ensuring safe operations during COVID-19, and to a contingency coordination website.