The WTO agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights and allow developed countries to treat developing countries more favourably than other WTO members. These special provisions include, for example, longer time periods for implementing agreements and commitments, or measures to increase developing countries’ trading opportunities.

These are “special and differential treatment provisions” (abbreviated as S&D or SDT).

The special provisions include:

  • longer time periods for implementing agreements and commitments
  • measures to increase trading opportunities for these countries
  • provisions requiring all WTO members to safeguard the trade interests of developing countries
  • support to help developing countries build the infrastructure to undertake WTO work, handle disputes, and implement technical standards
  • provisions related to least-developed country (LDC) members


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The Doha mandate

In the Doha Declaration, member governments agreed that all special and differential treatment provisions should be reviewed with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational.

More specifically, the declaration (together with the Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns) mandates the Trade and Development Committee to identify which special and differential treatment provisions are mandatory, and to consider the legal and practical implications of turning those that are currently non-binding into mandatory obligations.

In addition, the committee is to consider ways in which developing countries, particularly the least developed, may be helped to make best use of special and differential treatment.


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From the Trade and Development Committee to the General Council

The Trade Negotiations Committee agreed that the mandate on special and differential treatment should be carried out by the Trade and Development Committee in “special sessions”.

This has proved to be a difficult task. The Implementation Decision originally foresaw that the Trade and Development Committee would make its recommendations to the General Council by July 2002. Acting on the committee’s recommendation, on 31 July 2002 the General Council extended the deadline to 31 December 2002.

Early in 2003, members were still unable to agree on the set of 88 proposals that had been made, and could not decide whether to harvest the 12 proposals on which consensus was possible. Many members called for the Doha mandate — the Ministerial Declaration and the Implementation Decision — to be clarified. The Trade and Development Committee’s special session therefore made the following recommendations to the General Council:

  • take note of the 12 proposals that members can agree in principle
  • provide clarification on the mandate
  • instruct the Trade and Development Committee’s Special Session to suspend further work.

In February 2003, the General Council adopted the recommendations. Members agreed that the General Council Chairperson would consult delegations on how to take the matter forward.


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The situation as it stands

The General Council Chairperson has held several informal meetings. There are now 14 proposals on which members can agree.


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The proposals

A total of 88 proposals on special and differential treatment were made by developing and least-developed countries. Most proposals came from the African Group and the group of least-developed countries. The proposals usually identify parts of an agreement and suggest new wording to introduce new special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries or to strengthen existing ones.

Proposals on the table relate to most WTO agreements, including the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the GATT and the Agreement Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

In April 2003, the General Council Chairperson subdivided the 88 proposals into three distinct categories. Category one, with 38 proposals, contains those likely to be accepted with minor changes. It includes the 12 proposals that members had agreed in February. Category two contains 38 proposals which, according to the chairperson, would be discussed more effectively in the relevant WTO bodies. Accordingly, he forwarded them to the relevant bodies. The third category contains 12 proposals requiring major drafting in order to be agreed upon.

Proposals in the first and third categories remain on the General Council’s agenda.