The WTO’s agreements contain more than 150 provisions on S&DT for developing countries and LDCs, which include access to technical assistance activities and longer transition periods to implement agreements.
The proponents of the G90’s proposals under review at the meeting, which focused on technical barriers to trade and customs valuation, argue that the proposals will help advance SDGs 17.11, 8.a, and 10.a.
Negotiations chair Kadra Ahmed Hassan, Ambassador of Dijbouti to the WTO, urged members to “talk to each other to determine how progress can be made” in the S&DT talks.
Meeting in special session, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) sought to advance discussions on ten Agreement-specific proposals tabled by the G90 – a group of WTO developing country and least developed country (LDC) members – which would operationalize existing special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions and make them “more precise and effective.” Members focused on technical barriers to trade and customs valuation.
The WTO’s agreements contain more than 150 provisions on S&DT for developing countries and LDCs, which include access to technical assistance activities and longer transition periods to implement agreements. The negotiations taking place in the Special Session of the CTD are mandated by Paragraph 44 of the 2001 Doha Ministerial Declaration.
The G90 had originally made 88 S&DT-related proposals, which the Group narrowed down to 25 in advance of the WTO’s tenth Ministerial Conference (MC10) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2015. With no consensus reached in Nairobi, the G90 prioritized ten proposals in the run-up to MC11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2017. Proposals on the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), non-tariff barriers, subsidies, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, customs valuation, and market access had been previously discussed. Proposals on transfer of technology and LDC accession to the WTO were new. No agreement was reached at MC11 on whether to move ahead on any of those proposals.
Recently, the subject of S&DT has drawn renewed attention in other WTO bodies, including at meetings of the General Council. The LDC Group has proposed a ministerial decision that would extend the application of those S&DT provisions specific to LDCs for a period of 12 years after graduation, which has attracted support from some members and clarification questions from others.
At a broader level, the question of whether and how to “differentiate” between different types of developing countries and the S&DT provisions they can benefit from has long been a contentious issue in trade circles. Currently, any WTO member can “self-designate” that it should be treated as a developing country and access related S&DT provisions, either for the purposes of individual WTO agreements or across the board. Conversely, the WTO uses the UN classification to classify LDCs.
Another concern that has been raised, both at the CTD and in other WTO contexts, is whether the implementation of past LDC decisions from recent ministerials matches their promise and potential. These include the use of the “Monitoring Mechanism,” agreed at the 2013 WTO Ministerial Conference with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of S&DT provisions and making related recommendations. There has not been a single submission for the Monitoring Mechanism to review since its establishment nearly eight years ago.
In response to a request from the LDC Group, a virtual workshop is planned in June to review the implementation of a separate waiver under which WTO members can grant preferential treatment to services and services suppliers from LDCs, to give another example. Other LDC decisions, such as on preferential rules of origin and duty-free, quota-free market access, have also faced questions over their implementation track record, and what this means for LDCs themselves.
Speaking at the CTD’s meeting on 27 April 2021, Chair Kadra Ahmed Hassan, Ambassador of Dijbouti to the WTO, urged members to “talk to each other to determine how progress can be made” in the S&DT talks. She reiterated her commitment to work with delegations to find compromise ahead of MC12, scheduled to take place from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva, Switzerland. Ahmed Hassan launched a series of meetings to advance the S&DT negotiations on 8 February.
The G90’s proposals under review at the meeting focused on technical barriers to trade and customs valuation. South Africa, on behalf of the G90, highlighted the challenges faced by developing countries in complying with technical regulations and standards for traded goods, and stressed the need for “certain flexibilities” in implementing the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The proposal on customs valuation “seeks to address the lack of resources faced by customs administrations in LDCs, particularly in relation to valuation issues.”
The proponents argue that the proposals will help advance:
- SDG 17.11 on significantly increasing developing countries’ share of global exports;
- SDG 8.a on the role of the Aid for Trade initiative in helping developing countries build their trade infrastructure; and
- SDG 10.a on the implementation of the principle of S&DT for developing countries and LDCs.
During the meeting, some members expressed support for the proposals. Others pointed to concerns that remain following several rounds of discussions in the Committee in special session. The CTD heard calls for “new approaches” to address S&DT.
Noting that to find a way forward is in the interest of members and the WTO, the Chair reiterated that “it is in the hands of members to determine a new approach and a way forward in the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session.” Concluding the meeting, Ahmed Hassan said she will “carefully consider what was discussed, with a view to assessing how to move forward on the two proposals,” and encouraged all delegations to do the same. [WTO Press Release]