Special and Differential Treatment in the WTO: Why, When and How?

Special and differential treatment (S&D) for developing countries continues to be a defining feature of the multilateral trading system. This paper seeks to address key aspects of what has become an increasingly entangled and multi-faceted discussion. The paper begins by reviewing the historical context in which the relationship of developing countries with the multilateral trading system evolved, in order to shed some light on how the lines of the debate are drawn today. The paper distinguishes several elements in the case typically made for S&D. It argues that concerns about graduation — the definition of which countries qualify for special treatment —have complicated progress on this issue, suggesting that a focus on measures rather than on country status would obviate this difficulty, while at the same time increasing the analytical underpinning of the case for special and differential treatment. The paper explores various forms of S&D and develops arguments for particular approaches to the design and management of access to S&D. An illustration is provided of how a more analytical approach would work by defining eligibility automatically in relation to measures rather than countries.

No: ERSD-2004-03


Alexander Keck and Patrick Low — WTO

Manuscript date: January 2004

Key Words

special and differential treatment, WTO, trade policy, development

JEL classification numbers  

F13, O19, O24

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This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of individual staff members or visiting scholars, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the authors. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, rue de Lausanne 154, CH-1211 Genève 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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