Adding to the sum of knowledge with research on trade and sustainable development

In July 2017, UNCTAD launched a new research paper series (UNCTAD, 2020). Since that time, 41 research papers have been published, which have been downloaded almost 86,000 times. This chapter provides a brief statistical overview of this series.

Research is to see what everybody else has seen,
and to think what nobody else has thought
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

The papers cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from Brexit, to digital platforms, to fishery subsidies. For the purposes of this analysis, the research papers have been categorized into seven broad themes (see table 1). This is of course a simplification, as most papers deal with several complex themes simultaneously.

Table 1. Number of research papers published, by broad theme
Year of publicationBroad theme
TradeDevelopment / SDGsDigitalFinanceCompetitionClimate changeIndustrialisationTotal
Jan - Mar 202020--1--3
July - Dec 20178321--115
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from UNCTAD (2020).

Trade related papers accounted for almost 60 per cent of all research papers published. They cover a rich variety of topics including tariffs, non-tariff measures, subsidies, gender-in-trade, nowcasting trade, free trade agreements and value chains. Sustainable development, which included papers dealing with the political economy of SDG measurement, the digital and infrastructural divide, Big Data, enterprise contribution to SDGs and inclusive development, accounted for a further 17 per cent.

Since the series was launched in July 2017, almost 86,000 papers have been downloaded. Unsurprisingly, trade-related papers account for the bulk of these (70 per cent) – see table 2.

Table 2. Number of downloads by year of publication, year of download
YearNumber of downloads
TradeDevelopment / SDGsDigitalFinanceCompetitionClimate changeIndustrialisationTotal
Per year of publication
Jan - Mar 20202 420---853--3 273
201924 7521 945-1 429---28 126
20189 5592 2182 259441-4 110-18 587
July - Dec 201723 0915 9004 047701--2 16735 906
Total59 82210 0636 3062 5718534 1102 16785 892
Per year of download
Jan - Mar 202014 0191 11793035785379514518 216
201931 6984 2783 9151 525-1 66981243 897
201813 5213 7241 461689-1 64692321 964
July - Dec 2017584944----2871 815
Total59 82210 0636 3062 5718534 1102 16785 892
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from UNCTAD (2020).

Table 2 shows that downloads have been steadily increasing, from less than 2,000 in the first year (2017), to almost 44,000 two years later.

The monthly UNCTAD research papers views are illustrated in figure 1. The total number of downloads has steadily increased since 2019, reaching more than 10 thousand in November 2019.

Figure 1. Publication downloads per month
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from UNCTAD (2020).
The three most downloaded research papers are:
16,423 downloads: African Continental Free Trade Area: Challenges and Opportunities of Tariff Reductions (Saygili et al., 2017).
13,776 downloads: Trade and trade diversion effects of United States tariffs on China (Nicita, 2019).
6,114 downloads: Brexit. Implications for Developing Countries (Nicita et al., 2019).

These three papers account for more than 36,000 downloads, or 42 per cent of all UNCTAD research papers downloaded.

Table 3. Number of reasearch papers by UNCTAD Division
Year of publicationUNCTAD divisionsExternalAll
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from UNCTAD (2020).

Table 3 shows the number of research papers by division. In cases where a paper was co-authored by an UNCTAD staff member and an external author, that paper was classified to the division of the UNCTAD staff member. In cases where no UNCTAD staff were authors, papers were classified as ‘external’. Given the prominence of trade related papers, it is not surprising that DITC accounted for more than 40 per cent of papers published.

Table 4. Number of reasearch papers by SDG
Year of publicationSDG All
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on data from UNCTAD (2020).

The research papers have been coded to SDGs. As with theme classification, this is necessarily a simplification, as several papers deal with more than one SDG. In table 4, some papers are classified to two SDG goals, hence the total of 52 rather than 41. The importance of goals 9, 10 and 17 is evident.

It is important to note that research papers are only one of the release channels employed by UNCTAD. A number of flagship reports, publications, policy briefs, conference documents and news articles have also been published on topics relevant for sustainable development.


  • Nicita A (2019). Trade and trade diversion effects of United States tariffs on China. UNCTAD Research Paper No. 37. UNCTAD/SER.RP/2019/9. (accessed 5 June 2020).
  • Nicita A, Saygili M and Koloskova K (2019). Brexit. Implications for Developing Countries. UNCTAD Research Paper No. 31. UNCTAD/SER.RP/2019/3. (accessed 5 June 2020).
  • Saygili M, Peters R and Knebel C (2017). African Continental Free Trade Area: Challenges and Opportunities of Tariff Reductions. UNCTAD Research Paper No. 15. UNCTAD/SER.RP/2017/15Rev.1. (accessed 5 June 2020).
  • UNCTAD (2020). UNCTAD Research Paper (Series). Available at (accessed 10 June 2020).

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