Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

13thMINISTERIAL CONFERENCE : briefing note

Trade and development

Comprising over two-thirds of the WTO membership, developing economies and least-developed countries (LDCs) benefit from flexibilities in applying WTO rules. A major objective of the WTO is to support the greater participation of these economies in international trade. Work on achieving this objective is overseen by the Committee on Trade and Development.  

Over 150 "special and differential treatment" provisions are available to developing economies and LDCs across WTO agreements. These provisions include providing longer timeframes to implement WTO rules and providing technical assistance to assist implementation. The overall aim is to boost market access opportunities and safeguard the trade interests of these countries. In 2001, WTO members decided to strengthen existing flexibilities, with a view to making them more precise, effective and operational.

Development-related decisions

Since 2001, members have adopted several decisions to seek to advance trade and development negotiations, to strengthen the trading capacities of developing economies and LDCs, and to facilitate the greater integration of LDCs into the multilateral trading system.

Trade and development negotiations

  • Annex F of the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration contains five LDC-specific proposals adopted by members. For example, developed-country members and developing-country members in a position to do so pledged to provide duty-free and quota-free market access to LDCs.
  • In 2013, the “Monitoring Mechanism” adopted by members marked an important step to improve the implementation of special and differential treatment provisions.

LDC-specific decisions

  • Further to Annex F of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration on duty-free quota-free market access, in 2013, members committed to improve the existing coverage of duty-free and quota-free market access for LDC exports.
  • In 2015, members adopted a Ministerial Decision to facilitate market access for LDC exporters of cotton.
  • Two sets of guidelines were also adopted in 2013 and 2015 to make preferential rules of origin for LDCs simple and transparent.
  • Members also took steps to provide preferential treatment for LDC services and services suppliers through the LDC Services Waiver in 2011 and its operationalization in 2013, which will remain valid until 2030

Trade support

Current discussions in the run-up to MC13

Many developing economies continue calling for development and special and differential treatment to be given utmost importance at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) — scheduled to take place from 26 to 29 February in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — and in the WTO's regular and negotiating work.

LDC graduation

Graduation from LDC status is a top priority for the WTO's LDC Group, with 15 out of 45 countries currently navigating various stages of the graduation process. Over the past few years, LDCs have been emphasizing the importance of a smooth transition mechanism for LDC graduates. Their proposal submitted in December 2022 focuses on market access (contained in Annex 1 of the proposal) and on 17 special and differential treatment provisions identified in Annex 2.

WTO members marked an important milestone in October 2023 with the adoption of a General Council decision on the market access element of the LDCs' proposal. The decision encourages preference-granting members to provide "a smooth and sustainable transition period" for the withdrawal of duty-free, quota-free market access opportunities once countries graduate from LDC status.

The LDC Group has been discussing with other WTO members the issue of special and differential treatment in the Sub-Committee on LDCs, with the aim of potentially reaching consensus  at MC13. More details are available in the chair's report.

A WTO member graduates from LDC status when it meets certain socio-economic thresholds set by the United Nations. The decision regarding graduation is taken by UN members on the recommendation of the Committee for Development Policy, an advisory body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). While graduating is a notable development achievement, it presents challenges, notably the loss of preferential access to markets of other economies.

Out of the 15 LDCs on the path towards graduation, 10 are WTO members (Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Solomon Islands and Zambia) while three are in the process of negotiating their WTO accession (Comoros, Sao Tomé and Principe, and Timor-Leste). The respective accession packages of Comoros and Timor-Leste will be submitted to ministers for a formal decision at MC13. The other two graduating LDCs are Kiribati and Tuvalu.

A 2020 WTO report on the trade impacts of LDC graduation can be found here.

Find out more about trade and development here.

Small economies' integration into the trading system

WTO members agreed at a meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development's Dedicated Session on Small Economies on 1 December 2023 on a decision to be submitted to trade ministers at MC13 as part of the Work Programme on Small Economies stemming from the 2001 Doha Declaration. The objective of the work programme is to address the specific challenges that small economies face in participating in world trade due to a lack of economies of scale or limited natural resources, for example, without creating a separate category of WTO members.

Submitted by the WTO's Group of Small, Vulnerable Economies (SVEs), the proposed decision calls for WTO members to address the issue of further integrating small economies into the multilateral trading system by looking into issues such as the impact of non-tariff measures on trade costs, the link between trade policies and climate change adaptation, global supply chains, e-commerce and digital ecosystems.

The draft decision also calls on the Dedicated Session on Small Economies to continue monitoring the progress of the small economies' proposals in WTO bodies and negotiating groups and to assess the effectiveness of measures aimed at better integrating SVEs into global trade.

In addition, ministers will take note of the work undertaken to date in the Work Programme on Small Economies. The latest version of a WTO Secretariat compilation paper regarding this work is available here.

The previous Decision on Small Economies was taken at MC12. More information on the Work Programme on Small Economies can be found here.

Agreement-specific proposals

WTO members are discussing ten Agreement-specific proposals on special and differential treatment by the G90 group (1) of developing economies and LDCs in the negotiating body of the Committee on Trade and Development known as the "Special Session".

The proposals seek to strengthen existing flexibilities for developing members, otherwise known as “special and differential treatment”. The objective is to enable developing economies and LDCs to pursue policies aimed at achieving industrialization, structural transformation and diversification of their economies, to raise living standards and to further integrate into the multilateral trading system in a sustainable manner. The proposals are based on the Doha Ministerial Declaration's Paragraph 44 , which has been guiding the WTO's work on special and differential treatment since 2001.

Since last March, members have launched a process proposed by the G90 to discuss each proposal in various configurations. Each series of talks is to be overseen by facilitators nominated by the chair of the Special Session, Ambassador Kadra Ahmed Hassan of Djibouti. Discussions started in May with textual submissions by the G90 on their proposals relating to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, facilitated by Singapore.

In November 2023, the G90 circulated further textual proposals on: i) Section B of Article XVIII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, dealing with balance of payments issues; ii) the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures and iii) Article 66.2 of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding technology transfer to LDCs. The proponents announced upcoming submissions on the remaining proposals, which will form the basis for discussions once Ambassador Hassan has nominated further facilitators.


  1. The G90, otherwise known as the “Group of 90”, consists of the countries that are members of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), the African Group and the LDC Group. back to text