Meeting the Moment: The U.S. and the UN in 2023

Advancing U.S. Economic Interests

While the UN is often primarily thought of as an organization focused on international peace and security, global economic cooperation is a crucial component of its work, and has been since the very beginning. Article 55 of the UN Charter mandates the organization to promote “higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development” as well as “solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems.” This reflected the conviction of the UN’s founders that global economic interdependence and prosperity were essential to help prevent the outbreak of another devastating world war.

UN technical and specialized agencies are a critical part of the organization’s efforts to promote multilateral economic cooperation. By establishing international rules and guidelines for everything from intellectual property, to telecommunications, to air travel and postal delivery, UN specialized agencies provide a “soft infrastructure” of universal standards that help American businesses access foreign markets and compete globally. The work of several of these agencies is reflected below.

  • International Civil Aviation Organization: ICAO enables safe air travel everywhere by setting global standards for navigation, communication, and airline safety. These standards map out airspace jurisdiction and establish “free range” airspace over oceans and seas. The agency also sets international standards for limiting environmental degradation and works to strengthen aviation security by conducting regular audits of aviation security oversight in ICAO Member States.
  • International Maritime Organization: IMO sets international safety standards for ships, ports, and maritime facilities; develops ship design and operating requirements; and leads global efforts to prevent maritime pollution. Standards promulgated by IMO are central to the health of the U.S. economy, as more than 90% of all international trade is carried out on ships. IMO also works with Member States to address piracy, terrorism, and other security threats to the international shipping industry.
  • World Intellectual Property Organization: According to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, intellectual property-intensive industries directly and indirectly support more than 45.5 million jobs in this country, constituting 30% of all employment. WIPO encourages innovation and economic growth through the registration and protection of patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property, as well as through adjudication of cross-border disputes on intellectual property.
  • International Telecommunication Union: ITU facilitates the connectivity and interoperability of the world’s telecommunications networks, which is of critical importance to the U.S. telecommunications industry and American defense and intelligence communications capabilities. By allocating radio spectrum and satellite orbits, as well as developing technical standards to ensure that networks interconnect seamlessly, ITU helps make communicating possible even in some of the world’s most remote locations.
  • Universal Postal Union: UPU facilitates postal service across the globe, helping Americans conduct business everywhere, from Beijing to London to São Paulo. By setting standards for the worldwide postal system and promoting affordable basic postal services globally, UPU enables U.S. businesses to utilize the postal system to conduct business at low costs. UPU always plays an important role in mail security and is taking steps to combat the trafficking of illicit drugs, particularly opioids, in the mail.

Contracting with U.S. Businesses

The UN Secretariat has 40,000 staff and a large global presence, with 12 peacekeeping missions and dozens of other field missions around the world. To carry out its global operations, the UN purchases an array of goods and services, including telecommunications equipment, financial services, construction, food production, medical care, office equipment, and armored vehicles, from private vendors. According to the United Nations Global Marketplace, the UN purchased more than $2.33 billion in goods and services from U.S. companies in 2021 (the most recent year for which data is available), the most of any country. This represented a 20.6% increase over the previous year.

Economic Benefits for New York

In addition to contracting with American companies, the UN generates billions of dollars in revenue each year for New York City, which hosts UN Headquarters. A 2016 report by the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs found that the UN boosts the local economy by $3.69 billion each year, the equivalent of hosting more than seven Super Bowls annually.