Classification of economies

There is no established convention for the designation of "developing", "transition" and "developed" countries or areas in the United Nations system. The designation of economies used in this handbook is the classification used by UNCTAD. It has its origin in the coalitions formed during the preparation of the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1964. It primarily reflects historically formed common interests and identities of economies, and does not necessarily correspond with their ranking in macroeconomic or social indicators. The geographic locations of developing, transition and developed economies are depicted by the map below.

For a comparison of the UNCTAD development status classication with that of other international organizations, see Hoffmeister (2020).

World by development status

Throughout the handbook, the group of developing economies is further broken down into the following three regions: "Africa", "America", "Asia and Oceania", where the group of African developing economies coincides with Africa, and the group of American developing economies coincides with Latin America and the Caribbean, as defined in the "Standard Country or Area codes for Statistical Use (M49)" (United Nations, 2020b). Apart from these five groups of economies, whenever possible, data are also presented for the following groups:

  • Developing economies excluding China,
  • Developing economies excluding LDCs,
  • LDCs, according to the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) (United Nations, 2020c),
  • LLDCs, according to UN-OHRLLS (ibid.),
  • SIDS according to UNCTAD (2017),
  • HIPCs, according to the International Monetary Fund (2020),
  • Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS),
  • Group of Twenty (G20) (Saudi Arabia, 2020).

The UNCTADstat classification page (UNCTAD, 2020a) provides the lists of the economies included in the different groups.


The designations employed and the presentation of material on any map in this work do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). The final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. The final status of the following territories has not yet been agreed or determined: Abyei area, Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, Bi’r Tawil, Hala’ib Triangle, Ilemi Triangle, Jammu and Kashmir, Kuril Islands, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, Senkaku Islands, Spratly Islands.

Classification of goods

For breakdowns of international merchandise trade by product, UNCTADstat applies the SITC, Revision 3, (United Nations, 1991) and various aggregates compiled on the basis of that classification. In this handbook, on the Merchandise trade by product page, reference is made to the following five product groups:

  • All food items (SITC codes 0, 1, 22, 4),
  • Agricultural raw materials (SITC code 2 except 22, 27 and 28),
  • Ores, metals, precious stones and non-monetary gold (SITC codes 27, 28, 68, 667, 971),
  • Fuels (SITC code 3),
  • Manufactured goods (SITC codes 5, 6, 7, 8 except 667 and 68).

For the measurement of movements in commodity prices, the UCPI is disaggregated by commodity groups constructed from HS 2007 (World Customs Organization, 2006). For the correspondence between these commodity groups and HS headings and for the individual price quotations represented therein, see UNCTAD (2018)

Classification of services

The breakdowns by service category are based on EBOPS 2010 (United Nations et al., 2012). The EBOPS 2010 main categories have been grouped as shown in the table below.

Table 1Grouping of service categories on the basis of EBOPS 2010

EBOPS 2010

Trade in services by category page





Insurance and pension services

Insurance, financial, intellectual property, and other business services

Financial services

Charges for the use of intellectual property n.i.e.

Other business services

Telecommunications, computer and information services

Telecommunications, computer and information

Personal, cultural and recreational services

Other categories

Government goods and services n.i.e.


Services not allocated

Manufacturing services on physical inputs owned by others

Maintenance and repair services n.i.e.

Classification of economic activities

On the Gross domestic product page, gross value added is broken down by the three broad groups of economic activities below, in accordance with the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), Revision 3 (United Nations, 1989):

  • Agriculture, comprising: agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing (ISIC divisions 01 to 05),
  • Industry, comprising: mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity, gas and water supply, construction (ISIC divisions 10 to 45),
  • Services, comprising all other economic activities (ISIC divisions 50 to 99).