Development Agenda / Special and Differential Treatment (SDT)

Members of the WTO enjoy wildly different levels of development and advantages in global trade. Different rules benefit countries at various levels of development differently. Thus, at the time of the founding of the WTO, in recognition of this reality, developing countries advocated for flexibilities from the rules, because they realized that they would benefit developed economies but not developing economies. These rules are often called “Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) in the WTO. Otherwise, developing countries never would have agreed to the existence of the WTO and its hyperglobalized, pro-corporate rules which prioritize corporations’ “rights” to trade over national economic goals such as development.

Nevertheless, powerful rich countries ensured that WTO rules were skewed in their favor. Since the founding of the WTO, developing countries set forth a series of more than 100 proposals to address difficulties they had in implementing WTO rules that constrained their ability to develop their economies. Many of these “Implementation Issues” were included in the Doha Development Round in 2001, which rich countries claimed would focus on these development issues. Developing countries would never have agreed to launch a new round without these assurances.

Since that time, developed countries have actually refused to agree to a single demand by developing countries within the Development Agenda. Rich countries have blocked any progress on the mandate within the development agenda to strengthen SDT in the WTO. Strengthening SDT would reduce the onerous incursion into domestic policy-making that developing countries opposed and can be interpreted as reducing the power of the WTO over their economies. Current SDT proposals by the G90 group of over 100 developing countries include issues such as:

  • allowing more flexibilities in trade-related investment measures (TRIMs) so that developing countries could foment industrial policies (such as targeted subsidies and local content requirements);
  • allowing Least Developed Countries (LDCs) flexibility from TRIPS and TRIMS rules as long as they are LDCs;
  • ensuring that Duty Free Quota Free (DFQF) applies to 100 percent of exports by LDCs;
  • not forcing additional commitments from LDCs in their processes of acceding to the WTO;
  • ensuring that food security is paramount in guiding ongoing and future trade negotiations;
  • removing limitations on the movement of persons and facilitating process of recognition of qualifications in services rules;
  • allowing more tools to combat trade mispricing which allows for tax fraud by TNCs; and many more.

These are in addition to proposals in any particular theme, such as demands for flexibilities from TRIPS monopoly rules during the Covid-19 pandemic; ensuring development in the fisheries subsidies negotiations; transforming agricultural negotiations to ensure fairness; etc.

Unfortunately, in recent years, not only have developed countries opposed changes to existing WTO rules to make them more flexible for development, they are also engaging in an assault to weaken the existing SDT flexibilities, under the guise of WTO reform. These proposals include:

  • trying to force developing countries to negotiate flexibilities on a case-by-case basis, abolishing the solidarity and benefits of collective bargaining to developing countries;
  • creating onerous new requirements on transparency and notification;
  • imposing new restrictions on companies they deem as state-trading enterprises; and
  • limiting the number of developing countries that can avail themselves of the SDT flexibilities to arbitrary invented criteria, among others.
Civil society has long called for the transformation of the current global rules. Many civil society demands align with the development agenda of strengthening SDT.

Letter from Global Civil Society about the Agenda of the WTO, October 9, 2017:
English: pdf, docx. Spanish: pdf, docx. French: pdf, docx. Greek: pdf, docx.

WTO Turnaround: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Development First – Statement (October 2013)

Current demands of OWINFS with regards to Policy Space for Development include:

  • A strong package of proposals for policy space for development, known as the Special and Differential Treatment agenda, must be re-centered as the main focus in the WTO and agreed to immediately.
  • Attempts to prevent developing countries from accessing rights and flexibilities in the WTO through “differentiation” must be abandoned.
  • The expansion of binding commitments to cut tariffs through the Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) negotiations, the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), or the pressuring of countries to join the expanded Information Technology Agreement (ITA-II) must be abandoned.
  • Any agreement to limit subsidies in the Fisheries sector must not undermine sovereign rights already set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Any outcome must include a strong component of S&DT provisions to ensure that developing countries can pursue sustainable development of their fishing sectors while the harmful subsidies of large industrial fleets must be disciplined.
  • The LDC package, including Duty-Free Quota-Free access for LDCs, a fair and immediate resolution to the demands of the cotton-producing countries, and a services waiver for LDCs, should be implemented immediately.
  • Proposals to increase administrative burdens of developing countries under the rubric of “transparency and notification” are wholly inappropriate and should be replaced with changes to make the institution function in a more transparent and democratic manner that is respectful of capacity constraints of member countries, including through not holding simultaneous meetings; ensuring that meetings properly documented and that interpretation is universally provided.
  • If LDCs pursue accession into the WTO, their entry must not be conditioned on market access demands, but they should be able to accede on terms that allow them to use trade according to their development needs. These terms should not go beyond those applied to original LDC Members of the WTO. Countries that are “graduating” from LDC status should be provided flexibility to undertake new rules in ways that are compatible with their development trajectory.
  • A thorough assessment of existing constraints to countries’ ability to pursue domestic policies and use trade for development must be conducted so that rules across the WTO on intellectual property, agriculture, investment, services, and goods can then be transformed in accordance with structural transformation development policies.

Key Analysis of SDT Proposals

WTO reform and the crisis of multilateralism – A developing country perspective. (Faizel Ismail, South Centre, 2020)

Notification and Transparency Issues in the WTO and the US’ November 2018 Communication (South Centre, March 2019)
Various WTO Members submitted a Communication to the WTO in November 2018 which, if accepted, would affect the implementation of Members’ transparency and notification obligations at the WTO. It would strengthen the already burdensome notification obligations and introduce new punitive administrative measures should obligations not be complied with. This paper provides information about WTO Members’ current notification obligations and their level of compliance; looks at the history of discussions on notifications, particularly in the Working Group on Notification Obligations and Procedures which took place in 1995 – 1996; and provides an analysis of the Communication.

Why the US Proposals on Development will Affect all Developing Countries and Undermine WTO (South Centre, March 2019)
The US submitted two highly problematic proposals to the WTO in January and February 2019, undermining the place of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D) for developing countries at the WTO.

US’ Section 301 Actions: Why They are Illegitimate and Misguided (South Centre, September 2018)
This research paper examines the US’ Section 301 unilateral actions against China, stemming from the US’ concerns over China’s ambitious industrial policies and its rapid technological advancements. It looks in detail at why the US’ actions are in fact illegitimate and misguided.

The WTO’s Special and Differential Treatment Negotiations (Paragraph 44) (South Centre, January 2017)
Paragraph 44 of the 2001 Doha Ministerial Declaration mandates the ‘strengthening’ of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D) provisions in the WTO Agreement, and making them ‘more precise, effective and operational’. This Note tracks the evolution of these negotiations from the start of the Doha Round in 2001 until the Nairobi Ministerial in December 2015.

Key Updates & Articles on the Negotiations

Updated TWN Briefing paper on International negotiations by virtual means in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. (24 March 2021)

WTO: Growing support for 12-year transition period for graduating LDCs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (8 March 2021)

US to work with DG and like-minded members on WTO reform, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 March 2021)

New WTO DG delivers "divisive" trade agenda at GC meeting, by D. Ravi Kanth. (2 March 2021)

Members sharply divided on WTO reform, fisheries subsidies & JSIs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 March 2021)

Work begins on G90 proposals on improvements in S&DT provisions, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 February 2021)

Strong support for India's "development-oriented" policy initiatives. (12 January 2021)

Discussions continue on preferential rules of origin for LDCs, by Kanaga Raja. (20 November 2020)

Recovering Better from COVID-19 Will Need a Rethink of Multilateralism, by Richard Kozul-Wright (10 Nov 2020)

US opposes SDG Trade Monitor portal at WTO budget meeting, by D. Ravi Kanth. (28 October 2020)

South rallies around developmental agenda for WTO reforms, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 October 2020)

South pushes back against Riyadh initiative to reform WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 September 2020)

South calls for "developmental and inclusive" WTO reform agenda, by D. Ravi Kanth. (8 September 2020)

South urged to pursue "inclusive and developmental" WTO reforms, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 September 2020)

US seeks termination of China's developing country status at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 August 2020)

South rebuffs attempts to create new rules at WTO amid COVID-19, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 July 2020)

MC12 will hinge on restoring two-stage DSB, developmental outcomes, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 July 2020)

US refuses to negotiate improvements in provisions on S&DT, by D. Ravi Kanth. (2 July 2020)

US signals intention to fundamentally change the WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 June 2020)

North pressures South to agree to enhanced transparency & notifications, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 June 2020)

TWN Briefing paper on 'International negotiations by virtual means in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic' (5 June 2020)

South sets out developmental priorities in face of COVID-19, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 June 2020)

COVID-19: Trade policy choices during and after pandemic, by Ranja Sengupta. (22 April 2020)

CSOs call for halt to WTO negotiations during COVID-19 crisis, by Kanaga Raja. (20 April 2020)

Economic liberalisation and its faults, by K.M. Gopakumar & Ranja Sengupta. (15 April 2020)

UN: South needs $2.5 trillion support package to deal with COVID-19, by Kanaga Raja. (14 April 2020)

G20 fails to arrive at concrete developmental package for South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 April 2020)

Developing countries must demand development deliverables at MC12, by D. Ravi Kanth. (30 March 2021)

Developing countries spurn US proposal on differentiation, by D. Ravi Kanth. (6 March 2020)

Developing countries facing systemic crisis at the WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 March 2020)

US wants to transform WTO into a "market-oriented" body, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 February 2020)

South countries call for "policy space" in proposed WTO reforms, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 November 2019)

Major North countries bringing about state of exception at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 November 2019)

WTO mired in "full-blown" crisis over US attacks on S&DT & AB, by D. Ravi Kanth. (17 October 2019)

South Coalesces Around An Inclusive Approach to Transparency, by D. Ravi Kanth. (29 July 2019)

South Rallies Around Proposals to Advance Developmental Agenda, by D. Ravi Kanth. (29 July 2019)

Reform process a serious test for the WTO, says DG, by Kanaga Raja. (25 July 2019)

South challenges US and allies' narrative on WTO "reforms", by D. Ravi Kanth. (25 July 2019)

Trump has "personal interest" in differentiation, says US envoy, by D. Ravi Kanth. (25 July 2019)

South proposes strengthening WTO to promote development, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 July 2019)

US countered on transparency requirement by key developing countries, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 July 2019)

Reclaiming development in the WTO, by Kanaga Raja. (9 July 2019)

South faces defining moment on "development-friendly" WTO reforms, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 July 2019)

UN: From Development to Differentiation: Just how much has the world changed?. (5 July 2019)

South propose inclusive approach to WTO transparency, notifications, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 July 2019)

South countries establish "common platform" on WTO reform, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 July 2019)

China to host retreat on pursuing "development" via WTO reform, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 June 2019)

G20 fail to resolve differences over WTO reform, digital trade, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 June 2019)

South reject moves to curtail policy space to pursue industrialisation, by D. Ravi Kanth. (29 May 2019)

China tables comprehensive proposal on WTO reform, by Kanaga Raja. (17 May 2019)

China to stand firm against the US in protecting its policy space, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 May 2019)

Delhi meet calls for strengthening WTO-MTS, promoting development, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 May 2019)

South must put forward its own WTO reform agenda, says Davies, by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 May 2019)

Development: A new multilateralism for a global green new deal, by Kanaga Raja. (30 April 2019)

South reacts sharply against US notification requirement proposals, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 April 2019)

EU and allies push back against India's move to strengthen MTS, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 April 2019)

US tries to ram through intrusive WTO notification requirements, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 April 2019)

WTO-MTS facing existential threat, needs political decisions, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (27 March 2019)

China, India respond robustly to US paper on "differentiation", by D. Ravi Kanth. (15 February 2019)

US denounced for proposing "differentiation" among South countries, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 February 2019)

South nations insist on S&DT in fisheries subsidies agreement, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 February 2020)

US declares several South countries as developed in CVD decisions, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 February 2020)

South firmly rejects US Presidential memo on S&DT, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 October 2019)

South firmly rejects US proposal to name and shame on S&DT, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 October 2019)

WTO mired in "full-blown" crisis over US attacks on S&DT & AB, by D. Ravi Kanth. (17 October 2019)

South to oppose US attempts at denying S&DT at GC meeting, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 October 2019)

Trump declares "trade war" against South on S&DT, by D. Ravi Kanth. (31 July 2019)

Trump steps up pressure on South to forgo S&DT, by D. Ravi Kanth. (11 June 2019)

South countries soundly reject US proposal on "differentiation", by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 May 2019)

Brazil's tectonic shift in foregoing S&DT at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (25 March 2019)

US suffers major setback over proposal to deny S&DT to South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 March 2019)

S&DT sine qua non to promote development of South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 February 2019)

The continued relevance of S&DT in favour of South countries, by Kanaga Raja. (21 February 2019)

US unveils draft GC decision on providing S&DT only to LDCs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 February 2019)

DDA issues must be addressed before considering WTO reform, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 December 2018)

Current WTO reform proposals must be rejected, says Minister Davies, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 December 2018)

North countries succeed in foisting WTO 'reforms' at G20 meet, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 December 2018)

China for WTO reform to preserve MTS, respect development models, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 December 2018)

North waging new form of trade warfare, undermining sovereign rights, by D. Ravi Kanth. (26 November 2018)

Liberalization of global trade may have hit a wall, by D. Ravi Kanth. (26 November 2018)

South countries strongly oppose joint proposal on WTO notifications, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 November 2018)

US threatens to hold "WTO reforms" hostage over panel requests, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 November 2018)

Ottawa meet's move for launching new round of talks at MC12, by D. Ravi Kanth. (2 November 2018)

South call for expeditious conclusion of DDA talks, oppose new issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (22 October 2018)

Secretariat violates WTO Treaty to promote US agenda at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 October 2018)

Trade wars a symptom of unbalanced hyperglobalized world, by Kanaga Raja. (10 October 2018)

Azevedo's pitch for WTO rules in new areas countered at CSO event, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 October 2018)

US-EU-Japan WTO proposals target China's trade policies, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 October 2018)

EU's proposed changes to DSU unlikely to be accepted by US, by Kanaga Raja. (8 October 2018)

Crisis in multilateralism unfolding since UNCTAD-14, by Kanaga Raja. (8 October 2018)

WTO DG, EU and Canada propose comprehensive WTO reform, by D. Ravi Kanth. (13 September 2018)

China to stand firm against US unilateral punitive tariffs, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 September 2018)

China asks US to set its fiscal house in order, instead of blaming others, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 August 2018)

Concerns voiced over US unilateral actions, AB deadlock, by Kanaga Raja. (30 July 2018)

India gravely concerned Secretariat undermining multilateral issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 July 2018)

EU for 'reforms' to end MFN, consensus decision-making at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 July 2018)

Trade war - be ready to respond, by Martin Khor. (19 July 2018)

US criticised for starting 'trade war', undermining WTO's credibility, by D. Ravi Kanth. (17 July 2018)

Developing and least-developed face worst crisis yet at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 July 2018)

China urges members to join fight against US unilateralism, by D. Ravi Kanth. (9 July 2018)

US protects home market, wants more access from South for GSP, by D. Ravi Kanth. (25 June 2018)

Trump calls WTO a disaster, but wants new disciplines on innovation, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 June 2018)

US refuses to discuss trade and investment at OECD, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 June 2018)

South stresses development as central priority for resilience in WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 June 2018)

As US strikes trade turmoil, others embrace WTO-MTS, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 June 2018)

Multilateralism and international trade under pressure, by Kanaga Raja. (4 June 2018)

"WTO doesn't deserve to die through asphyxiation", by Kanaga Raja. (1 June 2018)

Three-pronged assault on WTO-MTS by the US, by Chakravarthi Raghavan. (27 April 2018)

US faulted at WTO Safeguards Committee over S.232 actions, by Kanaga Raja. (26 April 2018)

Major developing countries face concerted assault on S&DT flexibilities, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 April 2018)

US claims no basis for safeguard consultations on its S.232 actions, by D. Ravi Kanth. (11 April 2018)

Trump's launch of a global trade war, by Martin Khor. (16 March 2018)

US under fire at General Council over proposed unilateral actions, by Kanaga Raja. (12 March 2018)

South insists post-MC11 work based on DDA, but facilitators omit DDA, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 December 2017)

MC11 ending amidst endless frustration of large majority of South, by D. Ravi Kanth. (14 December 2017)

India won't accept shifting priority from DDA to non-trade issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 December 2017)

US wants S&D for non-compliance on export competition pillar, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 October 2015)

Trade: Need for effective S&D in fisheries, say India, Indonesia and China, by Kanaga Raja. (20 May 2008)

LDCs make strong plea in WTO for action on SDT. (2 November 2005)

Previous work

For articles on the development agenda from before the 11th Ministerial of the WTO, please see here.