Briefing note: Development and technical assistance

Trade is an effective tool for growth and poverty alleviation but open markets alone are not sufficient to increase developing countries' capacity to trade. The WTO agreements recognize the link between trade and development.

Updated: November 2013

THIS EXPLANATION is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

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More than two-thirds of WTO members are developing countries and 34 of them are listed by the United Nations as least-developed countries (LDCs). Development issues and the interests of developing countries are at the heart of the WTO’s work. The development-related work at the WTO includes Aid for Trade, special and differential treatment, technical assistance and training, and the Enhanced Integrated Framework.


Aid for Trade

Aid for Trade is an initiative that assists developing and, in particular, least-developed countries to integrate into the multilateral trading system by improving their capacity to export goods and services. It encourages developing country governments and donors to recognize the role that trade can play in enhancing economic development. Since the initiative was launched in 2005, Aid for Trade commitments from donors — governments, international and regional development institutions — reached US$ 41.5 billion in 2011, up 57 per cent from 2005.

The initiative is an example of the WTO's mandate to achieve “coherence in global economic policymaking”. Aid for Trade provides transparency as to how both developing countries and donor agencies are mainstreaming trade into their development strategies, planning and policies. The biennial Global Review of Aid for Trade provides a platform for stakeholders to monitor funding levels, to assess progress on mainstreaming trade into national and regional development policies and to debate the impact that Aid for Trade is having on the trade performance of developing countries.

The recent Fourth Global Review of Aid for Trade in July 2013 focused on the theme “Connecting to Value Chains”. It highlighted the need to engage the private sector in aid programmes, the importance of services for adding value in developing countries' economies, the key role of skills in connecting to value chains, the role that Aid for Trade could play in reducing investor risk, how Aid for Trade resources should leverage private investment, the critical role of border management and transport services, and the importance of access to trade finance.

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Special and differential treatment

Special and differential treatment (S&D) provisions give various types of flexibilities to developing and least-developed countries (LDCs) — ranging from provisions aimed at increasing trade opportunities, safeguarding developing and LDC interests, granting longer time periods for implementing WTO agreements, and providing technical assistance and other provisions in favour of LDCs.

Paragraph 44 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration mandated negotiations on S&D, calling on WTO members to review all provisions with a view to strengthening them, and making them more precise, effective and operational. WTO members have been working on this mandate since 2001 in the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development, which is the institutional home for the S&D negotiations.

At the Bali Ministerial Conference, WTO members hope to adopt a Monitoring Mechanism on S&D, which will provide a forum for monitoring S&D issues with the objective of improving beneficiaries' ability to utilize S&D provisions. In particular, it will conduct regular reviews of existing S&D provisions in multilateral WTO agreements and make recommendations, either to improve the implementation or to improve the provision itself.

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  • Special and differential treatment provisions in WTO agreements and decisions: WT/COMTD/W/196


Technical assistance and training

The WTO Secretariat provides technical assistance and training programmes to officials and stakeholders from developing countries. The main purpose of this trade capacity building is to enhance the capacity of developing countries to take full advantage of the rules-based multilateral trading system, to deal with new challenges and to enforce their rights and obligations. The WTO Doha Ministerial Conference in December 2001 confirmed that technical assistance and training are core elements of the WTO's development work.

As part of this technical assistance, the WTO Secretariat organizes training activities on trade rules in general and on specific areas of the WTO's work. The technical assistance programmes also include internship opportunities, academic support to universities in developing countries and the establishment of WTO reference centres. In 2012, for example, the WTO Secretariat delivered 343 technical assistance activities, both in Geneva and in various WTO members and acceding countries, benefiting approximately 12,600 participants.

The 2014-15 technical assistance plan aims to facilitate and support results in four areas: to assist government officials in implementing WTO agreements and making full use of members' rights; to enhance the capacity of governments seeking WTO membership to participate in accession negotiations; to enable stakeholders to use WTO-related information and raise awareness of WTO matters; and to help academic institutions include trade policy and WTO-related topics and subjects in their courses and research (see WT/COMTD/W/200).

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Enhanced Integrated Framework

The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) is a partnership of LDCs, donors and six core partner agencies — the International Monetary Fund, the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the WTO and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization as an observer agency. Established in 2008 with the key objective of helping LDCs to be more active players in the global trading system, it aims to integrate trade into national development plans through supporting capacity building, encouraging greater coordination among development partners in responding to national trade priorities and providing resources for specific trade priorities.

With a specific mandate to help the poorest countries increase their ability to trade, the EIF works to ensure coherence between the development/delivery of trade policies and national macro-economic and poverty alleviation strategies. Support from the EIF Trust Fund goes to nationally endorsed projects. These projects aim to develop partnerships with the private sector and civil society as well as support important areas such as trade facilitation, standards, export promotion and capacity building.

The EIF is currently active in 49 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, including two countries that recently graduated from the LDC list. The Framework has established strategic cooperation with a range of partners, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the African Development Bank, the World Bank's Trade Facilitation Facility, the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) and the Department for International Development's TradeMark Southern Africa.

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