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

DEVELOPMENT: TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
Special and differential treatment provisions

The WTO Agreements contain provisions which give developing countries special rights. These are called “special and differential treatment” provisions. The Ministers in Doha, at the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference mandated the Committee on Trade and Development to examine these special and differential treatment provisions. The Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013 established a mechanism to review and analyse the implementation of special and differential treatment provisions.

Click for Doha Development Agenda gatewaySee also
The Doha mandate
The Doha mandate explained

Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration


Introduction back to top

The WTO Agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights and which give developed countries the possibility to treat developing countries more favourably than other WTO Members. These special provisions include, for example, longer time periods for implementing Agreements and commitments or measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries.

These provisions are referred to as “special and differential treatment” (S&D) provisions.

The special provisions include:

  • longer time periods for implementing Agreements and commitments,
  • measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries,
  • provisions requiring all WTO members to safeguard the trade interests of developing countries,
  • support to help developing countries build the capacity to carry out WTO work, handle disputes, and implement technical standards, and
  • provisions related to least-developed country (LDC) Members.

The WTO Secretariat has made several compilations of the special and differential provisions and their use. The latest WTO document setting out the implementation of these S&D provisions is in WT/COMTD/W/196

  

The mandate back to top

In the Doha Declaration, member governments agreed that all special and differential treatment provisions are an integral part of the WTO agreements, and that these provisions should be reviewed with a view to strengthening them and making them more effective and operational.

More specifically, the declaration (together with the Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns) mandates the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) to identify which of those special and differential treatment provisions are mandatory, and to consider the legal and practical implications of making mandatory those which are currently non-binding. In addition, the Committee is to consider ways in which developing countries, particularly the LDCs, may be assisted to make best use of special and differential treatment.

Click for Doha Development Agenda gateway The Declaration       >  Declaration explained
The Decision on implementation-related issues and concerns       >  Decision explained
Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration (paragraphs 35-38)

  
  

Monitoring Mechanism back to top

The Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013 established a mechanism to review and analyse the implementation of special and differential treatment provisions. The mechanism, which will take place in Dedicated Sessions of the CTD, will provide members with an opportunity to analyse and review all aspects of the implementation of S&D provisions contained in multilateral WTO agreements, Ministerial and General Council Decisions — with the possibility to make recommendations to the relevant WTO bodies — aimed at either improving the implementation of reviewed provisions, or improving the provisions themselves through re-negotiations.

Click for Doha Development Agenda gateway Monitoring Mechanism – Ministerial Decision

  

  

Special Sessions of the Committee on Trade and Development back to top

On 1 February 2002, the Trade Negotiations Committee agreed that the mandate from paragraph 44 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration should be carried out by the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) in Special Sessions.

Negotiations on special and differential provisions take place in the special session of the CTD. The negotiations have resulted in a number of decisions, such as those relating to least-developed countries (LDCs) contained in Annex F to the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration and the Monitoring Mechanism adopted at the Bali Ministerial Conference.

Reports of the meetings are always issued after each Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development. They are called “the minutes”  of the meeting. These reports are generally available to the public six months after they have been issued

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Main legal provisions

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 restrict imports, if doing so would promote the establishment or maintenance of a particular industry, or assist 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 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 favourable treatment to developing countries.

The Enabling Clause is the WTO legal basis for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Under the GSP, 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.

For more information on the GSP schemes and other non-reciprocal preferential schemes being implemented by WTO members, see the Database on Preferential Trade Arrangements.

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.

  

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 favour 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 (download in pdf format, 205KB).

The June 1999 General Council Decision on Waiver regarding Preferential Tariff Treatment for Least-Developed Countries WT/L/304 allows developing country members to provide preferential tariff treatment to products of least developed countries. The waiver was extended until 30 June 2019 in a decision WT/L/759 adopted in 2009.

The WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2011 adopted a waiver to enable developing and developed-country members to provide preferential treatment to services and service suppliers of least-developed countries (LDCs) WT/L/847. The Bali Ministerial Conference further instructed members to put the waiver into operation WT/L/918.

  

Examples of provisions for differential and more favourable treatment of developing countries back to top