Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 34 Nos. 2

Doing “Development” at the World Trade Organization: The Doha Round and Special and Differential Treatment

Published on 1 April 2003

The trade talks launched at the WTO’s fourth ministerial meeting at Doha in November 2001 are supposed to have at their heart the needs and interests of developing countries, which are far more active in the World Trade Organization (WTO) than they were in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Yet, while some concessions are going to have to be made to developing country demands in order to reach a conclusion to the Doha Round, they are going to be hard won.

So far the industrialised countries have not been prepared to set aside what they see as their commercial or political interests to make the Doha promises a reality.

As part of the focus on development, special and differential treatment (SDT) was one of three key issues put on the table for early resolution by the Doha ministerial conference. In previous trade rounds, the countries most effective at getting this kind of special treatment in the WTO have been the most powerful. Before the Uruguay Round, the United States of America (USA) and, later, the European Union (EU) managed to exclude their agricultural support systems from serious GATT discipline, and during it they negotiated substantial exemptions. This amounted to special treatment for politically powerful large farmers and agribusiness. They have managed to protect vulnerable industries such as textiles manufacturers during extended adjustment periods, and have been prolific users of the instruments that allow for short-term protection, such as the anti-dumping agreement. This special treatment has largely been at the expense of developing country producers, who have suffered from low prices, barriers to exports and dumping in their domestic markets as a result.

Developing countries argue that what they want is a “rebalancing” of agreements that are weighted against them, and that their special economic circumstances mean that instead WTO agreements should be biased in their favour. Their initial position, not surprisingly, is to ask for what all countries want – maximum flexibility for their own actions, with other countries bound to provide an open and stable trading environment, and assistance with the more difficult or costly parts of the trade policy agenda. The question for the negotiations is how far developing countries should be treated more favourably, and what price they will pay for these privileges.

This article discusses the manoeuvrings that have gone on in the WTO since the launch of the Doha Round as industrialised countries have tried to manipulate the SDT agenda to ensure that developing countries pay the highest possible price for whatever is finally agreed. Developing countries are faced with a situation where, if they want early decisions on changes to SDT, they will have to agree provisions that are either very weak or apply to only a small number of the poorest countries. If they hold out for what they consider to be more meaningful provisions, this will involve protracted negotiations and run the risk that the price to be paid in concessions in other areas will be so high that the potential benefits of reformed SDT would be negated. Though slow, and more concerned with issues of procedure than substance, the negotiations on SDT since Doha have revealed some of the issues and principles that may inform the SDT debate in the future, as it moves towards a discussion of the content of an agreement, and these are assessed in the second part of the article.

Related Content

This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 34.2 (2003) Doing “Development” at the World Trade Organization: The Doha Round and Special and Differential Treatment

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Melamed, C. (2003) Doing “Development” at the World Trade Organization:. IDS Bulletin 34(2): 12-23

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Claire Melamed

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Melamed, Claire
IDS Bulletin, volume 34, issue 2