Celebrating 60 Years of UN Trade and Development: Highlights from the Global Leaders Forum

Over 1,100 participants from 152 countries, including the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, heads of state, ministers, government officials, leading economists and experts came together in Geneva for the Global Leaders Forum on 12–14 June 2024 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

UN SDG Action Campaign
6 min readJun 26, 2024

The theme, “Charting a new development course in a changing world”, set the stage for profound dialogues on redefining development in an era marked by rapid changes and complex global challenges. The Forum analyzed challenges in global trade disruptions, soaring public debt, climate change, and international finance and investment. The anniversary celebration underscored UNCTAD’s pivotal role in promoting inclusive and sustainable development through trade and investment, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Guterres, who commended the reforms initiated by UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. The UN SDG Action Campaign supported UNCTAD with communications of the event.

The Global Leaders Forum: Charting a new development course in a changing world

The Global Leaders Forum brought together leaders from diverse nations to address urgent trade and development challenges. Discussions focused on global trade disruptions, soaring public debt, climate change, and the intricacies of international finance and investment. These conversations highlighted the need for a paradigm shift to tackle ever-growing inequalities and the looming threat of climate catastrophe.

Photo: UN Trade and Development

A key takeaway from the forum was the need to redefine global economic governance.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out, “Our systems of global economic governance have not changed fast enough to meet the evolving challenges, resulting in frequent crises and weaker international responses.”

The event saw strong participation from leaders of the Global South, who underscored UNCTAD’s critical role in advocating for equitable trade opportunities and sustainable development. Leaders from China, Brazil, Comoros, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Barbados and Timor-Leste praised UNCTAD’s efforts in advancing South-South cooperation and fostering dialogue between the Global South and North.

Leaders commended the growing effectiveness of UNCTAD in helping developing countries participate in the global economy. UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan highlighted that many of the world’s poorest populations remain vulnerable to economic instability, environmental degradation and growing debt burdens. She voiced the organization’s commitment to supporting developing economies through an open and fair multilateral trading system. Ms. Grynspan emphasized the need to renew trust by amplifying the voices of developing countries.

Analysts examined disrupted global supply chains amidst escalating geopolitical tensions and the persistent asymmetry of the global economy in the digital age. They also explored cascading crises, sustainable industrial policies and the need to revitalize falling foreign direct investment.

The consensus was that industrial policies and structural changes should occur in a socially inclusive and sustainable manner to ensure social stability and protect populations of developing countries.

Thought leaders in the digital economy stressed the importance of including voices from the Global South in artificial intelligence (AI) governance discussions. This inclusion is crucial to support the development of contextual and adaptable AI. They highlighted the need for international cooperation and inclusive policy development, advocating for an international regulatory framework for AI developments.

Leading economists took the stage on the final day for a “Special voices” session. Ranging from promoting trade as a critical engine for development to reforming the international financial architecture, they highlighted the need for strong institutions and the limitations of one-size-fits-all development approaches.

Special attention was given to the current debt crisis as an example of the financial architecture’s inadequacy in adapting to a changing global landscape, especially for developing countries. Experts underscored that at this critical juncture, solutions are needed to reform the international economic system, including steps to address the debt crisis while creating a more resilient and inclusive economic future, as reflected in UNCTAD’s recently published “World of debt”.

UN SDG Action Campaign Collaboration with UN Trade & Development

UN SDG Action Campaign team at the Global Leaders Forum, Geneva

The UN SDG Action Campaign provided communications support to UNCTAD and the Global Leaders Forum, aligning with the mission of both organizations to amplify the voices of marginalized and developing nations. The UN SDG Action Campaign produced dynamic video reels, interviewed UNCTAD staff and stakeholders, delegates, met with youth leaders from the UNCTAD Youth Network and supported UNCTAD internal and external communications. View photo gallery.

Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign Marina Ponti and UN Trade & Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. Photo: UN SDG Action Campaign/Christina Samson

Marina Ponti, Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign, spoke with Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UN Trade & Development, on accelerating progress on the SDGs, addressing the debt crisis, and the importance of hope to catalyze action. The interview will be released on UN SDG Action Campaign channels in September.

Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign Marina Ponti and UN Trade & Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. Photo: UN SDG Action Campaign/Christina Samson

“We say the world has a deficit of trust and a deficit of hope. The problem is, if you don’t have hope, you don’t move. You don’t seek anything better. We need hope. History tells us that hope can change reality.” — Rebeca Grynspan, UN Trade & Development Secretary-General

The Weekly Tradecase recording. Photo: UN SDG Action Campaign/Christina Samson

Sarah Toms from UNCTAD interviewed UN SDG Action Campaign Global Director Marina Ponti for an upcoming episode of the UNCTAD Podcast ”The Weekly Tradecast”, which explores how major economic events are affecting developing countries and the lives of billions of people.

UNCTAD Youth Network leaders with UN Trade & Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. Photo credit: UN Trade and Development/Sergio Martinez
UN Trade & Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan meets with UNCTAD Youth Network leaders with. Photo: UN SDG Action Campaign/Jade Ok
The UN SDG Action Campaign interviewed UNCTAD staff and stakeholders, delegates and youth leaders. Photo credit: UN SDG Action Campaign/Christina Samson

The UN SDG Action Campaign also emphasized the importance of civil society. During the session on the last day featuring leading economists, Xavier Longan, Deputy Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign, spoke from the floor and stressed that one of the UN SDG Action Campaign’s priorities is to support the engagement of civil society in key decision-making processes related to the SDGs, especially with a focus on the reform of the Global Financial Architecture, debt, trade, human rights economy and taxation. Mr. Longan highlighted that there is momentum on the need to set up an inclusive and transparent mechanism for international taxation and asked the panel their views on the role civil society plays in accelerating the transition toward a new fair global tax system.

Xavier Longan, Deputy Director, UN SDG Action Campaign, speaks from the Floor at the session with leading economists. Watch here at 1:55:20

Looking Ahead

Marina Ponti, Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign, highlighted the importance of transparent and inclusive multilateral spaces in her special message for UNCTAD’s 60th Anniversary:

“In our unequal world where most economic decisions are taken by rich countries and powerful interest groups, we need a transparent and inclusive multilateral space where developing countries can work together to address the imbalances of the current international financial architecture.”

Ms. Ponti’s message resonated with the forum’s discussions on the need for systemic change and the importance of inclusive economic policies.

The 60th anniversary of UNCTAD and the Global Leaders Forum not only celebrated past achievements but also charted a bold new course for future development. The Forum also sets the stage for the upcoming Summit of the Future in September 2024, a critical opportunity to enhance cooperation on global challenges and reinforce commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By fostering inclusive dialogue and advocating for systemic change, UNCTAD, the UN SDG Action Campaign and partners are paving the way for a more equitable and sustainable global economy.



UN SDG Action Campaign

Official account of the UN SDG Action Campaign, aiming to mobilize, inspire & connect a movement to #FlipTheScript for the #GlobalGoals