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home > trade topics > development > main legal provisions

Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Main legal provisions

The WTO Agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights.

The WTO Agreements also contain special provisions which give developed countries the possibility to treat developing countries more favourably than other WTO Members

These provisions are referred to as “special and differential treatment provisions”.

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> Consult the Guide to downloading files.

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,
  • and support to help developing countries build the infrastructure for WTO work, handle disputes, and implement technical standards.
The WTO Secretariat has made several compilations of the special and differential provisions and their use. The most recent document is titled Implementation of special and differential treatment provisions in WTO Agreements and Decisions (download in MS Word format, 77 pages, 297KB)


The Agreement Establishing the WTO back to top

The Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (also known as “the WTO Agreement”, pdf format 144KB) in its chapeau cites sustainable economic development as one of the objectives of the WTO. It also specifies that international trade should benefit the economic development of developing and least-developed countries.


General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) — Goods back to top

GATT Article XVIII (download in pdf format, 353KB), to be read in conjunction with the Decision on Safeguard action for Development Purposes (download in MS Word format, 4 pages, 30KB) and the Declaration on Trade Measures Taken for Balance-of-payments Purposes (download in MS Word format, 7 pages, 19KB), both of 28 November 1979, and the Understanding on the Balance-of Payments Provisions of the GATT 1994 (download in MS Word format, 5 pages, 38KB), gives developing countries the right to protect their markets from imports in order to promote the establishment or maintenance of a particular industry. It also gives developing countries the right to protect their markets from imports in cases of balance-of-payments difficulties.

Part IV of the GATT (download in pdf format, 353KB) includes provisions on the concept of non-reciprocal preferential treatment for developing countries — when developed countries grant trade concessions to developing countries they should not expect the developing countries to make matching offers in return. However, developing countries claim that Part IV has been without practical value as it does not contain any obligations for developed countries.


Enabling Clause for developing countries (goods) back to top

The Enabling Clause (download in MS Word, 2 pages, 38KB) officially called the “Decision on Differential and More Favourable Treatment, Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries”, was adopted under GATT in 1979 and enables developed members to give differential and more favorable treatment to developing countries.

The Enabling Clause is the WTO legal basis for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Under the Generalized System of Preferences, developed countries offer non-reciprocal preferential treatment (such as zero or low duties on imports) to products originating in developing countries. Preference-giving countries unilaterally determine which countries and which products are included in their schemes.

The Enabling Clause is also the legal basis for regional arrangements among developing countries and for the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP), under which a number of developing countries exchange trade concessions among themselves.

For more information about the GSP and the GSTP, see the UNCTAD website.


General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) back to top

Article IV of the GATS (download in pdf format, 175KB) aims at increasing the participation of developing countries in world trade. It refers, among other things, to strengthening the domestic services competitiveness of developing countries through access to technology and improving their access to information networks.

Article XII allows developing countries and countries in transition to restrict trade in services for reasons of balance-of-payment difficulties.


Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) back to top

Article 66 of the TRIPS Agreement (download in pdf format, 194KB) provides least-developed countries with a longer time-frame to implement all the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement and encourages technology transfer.

Article 67 refers to the provisions of technical assistance.


Waivers back to top

Going beyond legal provisions stated explicitly in WTO agreements, actions in favor of developing countries, individually or as a group, may also be taken under “waivers” from the main WTO rules.

These waivers are granted by the General Council according to procedures set out in Article IX:3 of the Agreement Establishing the WTO. Recent examples of waivers include the EC/France Trading Arrangements with Morocco, the United States' Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), the Canadian Tariff Treatment for Commonwealth Caribbean Countries (CARIBCAN), the United States' Andean Trade Preference Act, and the ACP-EC Partnership Agreement (currently under consideration).

The June 1999 General Council Decision on Waiver regarding Preferential Tariff Treatment for Least-Developed Countries (download in MS Word format, 2 pages, 35KB) allows developing country members to provide preferential tariff treatment to products of least developed countries.

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Background material
back to top

The WTO Secretariat drafted on the occasion of the High Level Symposium on Trade and Development a background document Which contains:

> A chronology of the principal provisions, measures and initiatives in favour of developing and least-developed countries in the GATT and the WTO [Annex I of the doc];

> A summary of the provisions contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements in favour of developing countries [Annex II of the doc].

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