SPECIAL AND DIFFERENTIAL TREATMENT Stronger support for development

The WTO agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights and allow other members to treat them more favourably.

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, ministers agreed that all special and differential treatment provisions should be reviewed, in order to strengthen them and make them more precise, effective and operational. The declaration (together with the Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns) mandates the Trade and Development Committee to identify which S&D 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.

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 S&D provisions for developing countries or to strengthen existing ones. They relate to most WTO agreements, including the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the GATT and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).


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From Doha to Cancún 

The initial deadline – July 2002 – had to be extended, and by early 2003 members were still unable to agree on the set of proposals that had been made, nor could they 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.

In February 2003 the General Council instructed the Committee's Special Sessions to suspend further work. In April 2003, as a result of consultations, the Chairman organized the 88 proposals in 3 categories:

  • category one: 38 proposals on which there appeared to be a greater likelihood of reaching agreement. The General Council, in informal meetings, started to work on those proposals.
  • category two: 38 proposals which had been made in areas that were under negotiations as part of the Doha Development Agenda, or being otherwise considered in other WTO bodies and which were likely to get a better response within the framework of the negotiations or at the technical level. The Chairman sent the proposals in this group to the concerned bodies and asked them to address them as part of their on-going work.
  • category three: 12 proposals on which members had wide divergences of views. They were set aside.

By the eve of the Fifth Ministerial Conference, in September 2003 in Cancún, Mexico, members could agree on 28 proposals. They remained as “agreed in principle” while work resumed in the Committee on Trade and Development.


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The “July Package” 

By early 2004 members were divided on the way forward. Some wanted to continue to examine proposals. Others wanted to concentrate on cross-cutting issues such as the establishment of a monitoring mechanism on the implementation, objectives and principles of S&D, and the special needs of particular groups of countries. In addition, members had different views whether or not the 28 proposals agreed in principle should be adopted.

As part of the overall negotiations, members approved, on 1 August 2004, a package of framework and other agreements. The package, known as the “July Package”, set a new deadline: July 2005.


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The situation as it stands 

Members found it difficult to resume work on S&D after the 2004 July Package was agreed. There were still important divergences of view on the way forward. Finally, in early April 2005, the chairman found a compromise: members would resume work on five LDCs' proposals. They include: greater flexibility for LDCs to take up commitments consistent with their level of economic development; improved access for LDCs to temporary waivers regarding one or more of their obligations; duty-free and quota-free market access for goods originating from LDCs; and greater flexibility to use trade-related investment measures as a development tool.

Although progress was made on the five proposals, the Chairman announced on 29 July 2005 that he was unable to make specific recommendations to the General Council. The situation was the same at the time of printing.