UNCTAD TrainForTrade – Strengthening knowledge for sustainable economic development

The UNCTAD TrainForTrade programme provides bespoke technical assistance to developing countries. The aim of the programme is to empower countries to participate in, and reap the benefits of, international trade in an equitable and sustainable manner. The programme has three goals:

  1. Build sustainable networks of knowledge to enhance South-South cooperation and national ownership;
  2. Promote digital solutions and innovative thinking to enhance capacities of international trade players;
  3. Encourage development-oriented trade policy to reduce poverty and to promote transparency and good practices in trade.
The UNCTAD TrainForTrade programme is vitally important in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Accords.President of Ireland, Mr. Michael D. Higgins (2018)

TrainForTrade contributes to the achievement of SDGs concerning life below water (SDG 14), industry innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), gender equality (SDG 5) and ending poverty in all forms (SDG 1). TrainForTrade also contributes to SDG 17, most directly to SDG Target 17.9, by building the capacity of developing countries to support the implementation of sustainable development goals in trade. Furthermore, in addition to timely management of the goods received, ports must prepare for the coming effects of climate change: rising temperatures, rising waters and extreme weather events; they must also ensure the environmental sustainability of their practices as part of global value chains. TrainForTrade also organises specialised workshops addressing climate change and the carbon market, thus contributing to SDG 13 also.

More than 5 000 participants from 2014 to 2018

Over the past five years, the programme has trained more than 5000 participants1, completing, on average, nine full days of training. In total, between 2014 and 2018, participants received training equivalent to almost 45,000 full days, or 358,000 hours (see table 1).

Table 1. Total capacity development provided by TrainForTrade
Year(s)Number of participants totalProportion femaleTotal amount of training in hoursTotal amount of training in daysNumber of countries receiving training
20141 25838%68 0778 50951
20151 06629%64 7968 09952
201683636%68 4328 55467
20171 33232%84 89210 61177
201889337%71 6608 95768
2014 - 20185 38534%357 85744 732116
Source: UNCTAD TrainForTrade.
Note: For detailed information, see appendix 1.

TrainForTrade trained participants from 116 different countries during this 5-year period (see map 1). Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions accounted for the bulk of this capacity development, with 55 per cent and 37 per cent of all persons trained, respectively (either face-to-face or via distance learning).

Map 1. Nationalities of participants in TrainForTrade courses, 2014-2018
Source: UNCTAD TrainForTrade.

Focus on port management and international trade

During the last five years, TrainForTrade has focused on three areas: (1) port management; (2) international e-commerce; and (3) international trade statistics. Port management supports port communities in implementing efficient and competitive port management services. The e-commerce training covers legal aspects of e-commerce, best practices and digital identity, while the statistics training pertains to the compilation and use of trade-in-services statistics and merchandise trade statistics. Courses are currently offered in English, French and Spanish. Previously, courses were also completed in Portuguese – this option may again become available with funding.

TrainForTrade combines distance learning with face-to-face training. This is a an environmentally friendly and cost-efficient method of delivering high-quality training that offers considerable flexibility, making it a pragmatic approach for today’s busy world (for more information, see UNCTAD (2020a)). Between 2014 and 2018, UNCTAD held a total of 150 TrainForTrade courses, either as face-to-face training or distance learning.

Overall, 34 per cent of all participants between 2014 to 2018 were female (table 1). The higher proportion of male participants is partly explained by the fact that some courses are aimed at work forces that are themselves male-dominated. This is especially true of port management, which heavily influences the overall ratio. Of course, participation in face-to-face training also depends on countries’ nominations. In total, distance learning had more female participants (44 per cent) than face-to-face training (29 per cent). This is true even when only including courses that were offered as both face-to-face training and as distance learning (in that case the corresponding proportions of female participants were 44 and 36 per cent; see table 2 for gender distribution for each component and mode).

Table 2. Capacity development provided by TrainForTrade by programme component and mode of training, totals for the period 2014-2018
Programme areaComponentModeNumber of participants totalProportion femaleTotal amount of training in hoursTotal amount of training in daysNumber of countries receiving training
Port managementPort managementFace-to-face2 31825%267 48433 43624
Port managementPort performanceFace-to-face10230%3 26440818
Port managementTraining the trainersFace-to-face45332%21 3062 66334
Port managementTraining the trainersDistance learning3333%256327
International e-commerceE-commerce best practicesDistance learning43037%12 2521 53218
International e-commerceE-commerce for practitionersFace-to-face10324%2 71333911
International e-commerceE-commerce for practitionersDistance learning36319%7 25890714
International e-commerceInternet governance workshopFace-to-face7541%2 07225913
International e-commerceLegal aspect of e-commerceFace-to-face18343%5 30466345
International e-commerceLegal aspect of e-commerceDistance learning69754%17 8082 22643
International trade statisticsInternational merchandise trade statisticsFace-to-face2387%7369214
International trade statisticsInternational merchandise trade statisticsDistance learning14069%3 36042029
International trade statisticsInternational services trade statisticsFace-to-face8040%3 02437847
International trade statisticsInternational services trade statisticsDistance learning38547%11 0201 37885
Source: UNCTAD TrainForTrade.
Notes: For detailed information, see appendix 1.

As is evident in table 2, port management is the main programme area of TrainForTrade. This training accounts for 54 per cent of all participants and 82 per cent of training days. It is an intensive development programme designed to support ports to implement efficient and competitive port management services to increase trade flows and foster sustainable economic development.

One of the greatest successes of the UNCTAD program was to bring us together – the government with the private sector – to unite efforts and have the same vision for our portsMr. Bismark Rosales, Port Manager - Jennefer, Bolivia, 2018

Capacity development relating to e-commerce accounted for 34 per cent of persons trained but only 13 per cent of training days. More recently, trade statistics have become an important aspect of capacity development and accounted for 12 per cent of persons trained. This includes courses in IMTS and SITS that both efficiently blend distance learning and face-to-face training. For example, SITS is jointly run by UNCTAD Statistics and TrainForTrade and begins with a six-week online training course run by a facilitator. Candidates who successfully complete the course and pass the online tests may be invited to regional face-to-face workshops to further develop their knowledge. The face-to-face workshops are often run in cooperation with the United Nations Statistics Division and the World Trade Organization.

Over 450 people trained and employed as trainers – promoting South-South cooperation

Training of trainers is an important component of the port management training. Between 2014 and 2018, 453 trainers were trained and employed as trainers. In most cases, these trainers were employed in their own countries. A particularly important element of this course is to develop trainers from the South, for each of the three language networks (English, French, Spanish), who then go on to train others from the South; i.e. a trainer from one developing country trains future trainers in another developing country. In doing so, TrainForTrade makes an important, albeit indirect, contribution to South-South Cooperation – an important ambition of SDG 17. Over the last five years, 78 trainers from the Global South were trained and subsequently provided training in other developing countries. Of these, 18 per cent were female (see table 3). The French-speaking network has trained the largest number of trainers from the South – these trainers largely serve Francophone West Africa.

Table 3. Total number of trainers trained by TrainForTrade, 2014-2018
Total participantsParticipants from one developing country
employed in another
TotalProportion femaleTotalProportion female
By language networkEnglish17434%1735%
By regionAsian9338%1050%
Latin America11732%2516%
Source: UNCTAD TrainForTrade.

High certification and satisfaction rates among participants

TrainForTrade enjoys high certification and satisfaction rates, see table 4. Between 2014 and 2018, 82 per cent of participants received certificates after having completed their courses and passed online exams. The average satisfaction rate among participants was also high, at 84 per cent.

For additional testimonials, see the TrainForTrade Golden Book (UNCTAD, 2020b).

Table 4. TrainForTrade certification and satisfaction rates
Year(s)Total participants certifiedProportion femaleCertification rateSatisfaction rate
2014-20182 91942%82%84%
Source: UNCTAD TrainForTrade.
Notes: For detailed information, see appendix 1. Proportion female and satisfaction rate based on courses that have those figures recorded. The relatively low certification rate for 2018 is noteworthy. For some courses, a low certification rate does not reflect participants failing their tests, but rather not being able to attend the course due to administrative constraints. This is true for a SITS face-to-face workshop in 2018.


  1. As some persons participate in more than one course, the number of participants does not equal the number of individuals.


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