WTO / US Open to Special and Differential Treatment


The United States has indicated it's willingness to discuss a comprehensive proposal tabled by a large majority of developing and least-developing countries on making special and differential treatment simple and effective at the World Trade Organization, WTD has been told.

Up until now, Washington had repeatedly refused to engage with the Group of 90 countries on their proposal, alleging the S&DT improvements sought in 10 agreement-specific proposals were unsustainable, said people familiar with the discussions.

However, the United States seems to be bound by paragraph two of the Outcome Document of the 12th ministerial conference that was held last June. Trade ministers at the MC12 reaffirmed “the provisions of special and differential treatment for developing country Members and LDCs as an integral part of the WTO and its agreements.”

The trade ministers also reiterated that “Special and differential treatment in WTO agreements should be precise, effective and operational.”

Paragraph two says that “in addition, we recall that trade is to be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment, pursuing sustainable development of Members, and enhancing the means for doing so in a manner consistent with Members' respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development.”

Trade ministers instructed “officials to continue to work on improving the application of special and differential treatment in the CTD SS and other relevant venues in the WTO, as agreed, and report on progress to the General Council before MC13.”

Dedicated Meetings
At a negotiating session of the Committee on Trade and Development on Monday, Washington concurred with the members of the Africa Group; the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group and the least-developed countries on holding dedicated formal and informal meetings in the run-up to the 13th Ministerial Conference to be held in Abu Dhabi in February 2024, said participants who asked not to be quoted.

The European Union agreed to work with the G90 members on addressing their specific concerns in the 10-agreement specific proposal, the participants said.

At the special CTD session, India, China, Cuba and Nicaragua among others supported the G-90 proposal, underscoring the need for resolving the specific issues raised in the G-90 proposal by the 13th ministerial conference, participants said.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her remarks at the meeting, said that “more still need to be done to ensure that special and differential provisions are fit-for-purpose and responsive to the genuine needs of developing members.”

She also said that “special and differential provisions are not ends in themselves, they are a means of enabling and empowering developing countries and LDCs to use the opportunities created by the WTO, to improve people’s lives on the ground,” while mentioning the trade facilitation agreement and the partial fisheries subsidies agreement.

Ahead of the meeting, South Africa on behalf of the Africa Group, the ACP Group, and the LDC group submitted a new proposal explaining the underlying rationale and the importance of addressing the much-delayed 10-agreement specific proposals on a war footing, said participants who preferred not to be identified.

South Africa introduced the restricted G-90 document ( Job/TN/CTD/2, Job/TNC/106 proposal) spelling out the central goals as stated in the Marrakesh Agreement.

The large majority of developing and LDCs maintained that “Special and differential treatment (SDT) was embedded in WTO agreements precisely as an acknowledgment of the different levels of economic development and capacities among its membership and the role that trade should play in bridging the development divide which finds expression in a number of forms, including infrastructure prosperity, technology, industrialization, digital connectivity, etc.”

The proponents said constructive “exchanges and interaction at the Informal General Council Meeting on WTO Reform focused on Development on 2-3 February 2023 revealed a consensus among WTO Members on the centrality of development as a fundamental objective of the multilateral trading system.”

Significantly, members “reasserted their commitment to the founding principles and objectives of the WTO, in particular, that trade is not an end in itself, but a means towards “...raising the standards of living, ensuring full employment and to enhance the means of doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development.”

It expressed confidence in “political commitment and guidance provides a clear pathway and necessary impetus towards the review of all special and differential treatment provisions with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective, and operational in line with paragraph 44 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.”

Bigger Challenges
The proponents emphasized that developing and LDCS face bigger challenges today as they are still grappling “with the lingering devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their economies and remain constrained in realizing equitable and meaningful integration into the global economy and reaping gains from the ‘post-pandemic’ recovery, these countries are now contending with new sets of external shocks such as rocketing inflation, the food and energy crises, and balance of payment challenges, among a host of threats.”

With the global economy facing heavy headwinds and continued disruptions to global supply chains, it is common knowledge that “the disproportionate impact of these global economic shocks for developing countries, including LDCs relative to more resilient developed economies with the resources and capacities to cushion and withstand negative economic shocks.”

The G-90 proponents said they are committed to the pursuit of meaningful mainstreaming of development in the WTO and its agreements.

Part of the problem with the S&DT provisions is that they are vague in the current WTO agreements making it difficult for developing countries and LDCs to implement them.   The 10 Agreement-Specific Proposals (ASPs) are the result of serious consideration over several years and have undergone arduous rationalization from what were over 150 ASPs.

Promised Benefits of Trade Not Met
The proposal says that “while some 75% of WTO Members are currently developing countries, the promises of welfare gains from trade liberalization have not materialized for a majority of them or at the least been much more modest than anticipated when the WTO was established.”

Therefore, it is important to provide “the necessary clarity and certainty to the policy space and flexibilities accorded in theory in the 10 ASPs,” as they positively contribute to the industrialization, economic diversification and structural transformation of its members and ensure their integration into the multilateral trading system.”

The ten agreement-specific proposals include:

  1. Agreement on Trade-related investment measures (for enabling developing countries to industrialize);
  2. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (GATT 1994) Article XVIII: Section A and
  3. GATT-Article XVIII -Section B concerning the balance of payments;
  4. Agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures;
  5. Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade;
  6. Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing measures;
  7. Agreement on Customs Valuation and Decision on Minimum values;
  8. 1979 Decision on Differential and More Favourable Treatment, Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries (“Enabling Clause”);
  9. Article 66.2 of TRIPS Agreement (Transfer of Technology); and
  10. Accessions.


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