idea of ‘Special and Differential treatment ‘
(S&D) goes back to 1947 to the initial attempts to cast
the foundations of the international trading system. The preamble
of the WTO agreement recognises the special needs of developing
countries originally embodied in the Havana Charter. The provision
for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), stipulates that
they will only be required to undertake commitments and concessions
to an extent consistent with their development, financial
and trade needs, or their administrative and institutional
With the broadening of the multilateral trade agenda, deepening
liberalisation and the widening gap between the rich and poor
nations within the WTO, the issue of S&D is of fundamental
importance, especially to developing countries.
Types of S&D
S&D provisions may be categorised in two ways.
i) exceptions to the overall rules that apply to developed
countries in the system.
ii) positive actions in favour of developing countries that
are required by developed countries or by the WTO and other
Hesham Youssef* has identified the following six types of
S&D provisions depending on the nature of the action required:
• those requiring developed countries to safeguard the
interests of developing countries when adopting certain measures
• those mandating or requesting support measures to
developing countries, including financial and technical assistance
either by developed countries, the WTO or other international
• those aimed at enhancing trading opportunities for
developing countries, through providing more favourable access
to the markets of developed countries
• those giving developing countries some flexibility
and policy discretion including granting them more favourable
thresholds or exempting them from obligations or disciplines
that apply to developed country members
• those providing for some safeguard-type measures,
i.e. giving assurance to developing country members that if
they face difficulties, they will be able to resort to policies
and measures that will assist them in addressing those difficulties
• those granting limited derogation from the application
of rules. These allow developing countries to derogate from
commitments for specific time periods, with conditions that
vary from one agreement to another and may also differ between
developing and LDCs. At the end of these transitional periods,
developing countries will generally have similar obligations
to those of developed countries.
Importance of S&D to developing
The initiative for multilateral trade negotiations has so
far come from developed countries and as a result the agreements
reflect their priorities and objectives and are full of imbalances
and deficiencies. For example the Trade Related Investment
Measures (TRIMs) Agreement addresses the interests and rights
of investors but has nothing regarding the obligation of investors.
The deepening of liberalisation commitments and the broadening
of the multilateral trade agenda has led to agreements being
concluded in a number of areas critical to the national development
of the developing countries, necessitating sufficient flexibility
to adopt appropriate policies to protect their economies.
Owing to their development challenges, many developing countries
are unable to participate effectively in the WTO processes
and negotiations. Thus the results reflect the interests of
the developed countries. They also have difficulty in implementing
the agreements and in adequately understanding their rights
Implementation of S&D under the
While the principle of S&D for developing countries has
been accepted and a number of provisions are stated in the
various agreements, trade and trade-related negotiations still
start from the premise that the same rules should apply to
all. Only through the bargaining process will S&D be accorded
to developing countries, in line with the principle of Single
Undertaking. The implementation of the S&D provisions
has also proven difficult in practice, as they are either
unclear, or for various reasons have not been utilised by
the developing countries.
In practice S&D means little more than longer implementation
time frames and exemptions for the poorest countries. Technical
assistance, one of the major S&D provisions is limited
to workshops and seminars, thus falling short of the kind
of assistance required by developing countries.
There is growing pressure to limit the coverage, scope and
duration of S&Ds. More advanced developing countries (Peru,
Argentine and Brazil) are being urged to forfeit certain S&D
rights and safeguards which they can presently use, while
developing countries applying to join the WTO are being pressurised
to forego S&D provisions. IMF/WB policy prescriptions
often contradict S&Ds enshrined in the WTO.
S&D in the Doha Agenda
The Doha Ministerial Declaration reaffirmed the provisions
of S&D as an integral part of the WTO Agreements, endorsed
the work programme on S&D treatment set out in the Decision
on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns. It also mandated
the Committee on Trade and Development to look into ways of
reviewing all S&D provisions with a view to strengthening
them and making them more precise, effective and operational.
A number of proposals have been made, including joint proposals
by the Africa Group, the Consultative Group of LDCs, and the
Like Minded Group.
Proposals for the improvement of
1. There is need to examine whether the present S&D provisions
can achieve their objectives and if not, how they can be developed
to do so; to examine the actual implementation of all S&D
provisions in various WTO agreements; and to ensure coherence
in the overall approach to this issue.
2. Make S&D provisions enforceable by converting the ‘shoulds’
to mandatory obligations of ‘shalls’.
3. A monitoring mechanism should be established. This would;
regularly evaluate the effective utilisation of S&D provisions;
make recommendations for appropriate improvement in the rules;
provide a forum for member consultations designed to ensure
compliance with S&D provisions.
4. S&D and graduation from it should be determined by
development benchmarks, not arbitrary timetables.
5. S&D should be a permanent and integral feature of WTO
6. Capacity building activities should go beyond workshops
and seminars and technical missions. These activities should
address the supply-side constraints of developing countries
and build domestic skills in all WTO sectors.
7. Developing countries now in the process of accession to
the WTO should not be forced to forego S&D provisions.
Developing countries have now gained practical
experience in both negotiating and in the implementation of
the agreements, both in their domestic policies and through
their participation in international trade. S&D is a cross-cutting
issue where all developing countries have a shared interest
and therefore have the scope to press their demands in a coordinated
manner as a group. Developing countries must formulate a practical
and pragmatic strategy for the on-going negotiations, so that
S&D is further developed and improved to meet the challenges
they face in the ever broadening multilateral trade agenda.
1. South centre (June 1999) Trade – Related Agenda,
Development and Equity ((T.R.A.D.E) Working Papers, Special
and Differential Treatment For Developing Countries In The
WTO, South Centre, Geneva
2. Bhagirath Lal Das (1998): The WTO Agreements, Deficiencies,
Imbalances and required changes. Third World Network.
3. ECDP, ICTSD and ODI (Vol. 1, issue No.3 September 2002)
Trade negotiations Insights, From Doha to Cotonou.
4. The Doha Declaration and The Decision on Implementation
– related issues and Concerns.
* Hesham Youssef (June 1999): South centre (June 1999) Trade
– Related Agenda, Development and Equity ((T.R.A.D.E)
Working Papers, Special and Differential Treatment For Developing
Countries In The WTO, South Centre, Geneva