The World Trade Organization (WTO) declaration launching the current multilateral trade negotiations, styled by some as the Doha Development Round, put developing country interests and the concept of special and differential treatment (SDT) at its core.
Paragraph 2 of the Declaration pointed out that the majority of WTO members are developing countries and that ‘their needs and interests [are] at the heart of the Work Programme adopted in this Declaration’ (WTO 2001). Paragraph 44 reaffirms that:
provisions for special and differential treatment are an integral part of the WTO Agreements. … We therefore agree that all special and differential treatment provisions shall be reviewed with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational (WTO 2001: para. 44).
Yet the discussions on SDT are at an impasse. As Claire Melamed explains (this volume), there has been virtually no progress in the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) which has been charged with this review. It is only a modest exaggeration to say that WTO members are still at first base. The industrialised countries are willing to offer only token gestures, such as a monitoring mechanism for existing SDT. Developing countries are demanding the unattainable: binding commitments on the industrialised countries to provide substantial positive support and to remove all barriers to developing country exports, coupled with full exemption for themselves from any commitment to do anything.
To an extent, this absence of progress simply mirrors what is happening in the other working groups. At the time of writing, movement on all the main items of the Doha agenda has been glacial, at best. The Doha timetable foresees agreement being reached by 2005, but no recent Round has ended on time.
The Tokyo Round was launched in 1973 with the stated expectation of completion in 27 months; it took over 6 years. The Uruguay Round was launched with the confident prediction that it would be concluded within 4 years; it was finalised at Marrakesh in 1994, having taken ‘over four years to prepare, and seven more years to complete’ (Croome 1995: 1). On these precedents, the Doha Round will be with us for the rest of the decade, making slow and erratic progress.
But the problems on SDT are more than “business as usual”. The acronym is simply a handle for efforts to recast the multilateral trade regulatory system to cope with crucially important changes between the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and with the much higher level of developing country involvement.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 34.2 (2003) If One Size Doesn’t Fit All, What Does? Rethinking Special and Differential Treatment in the World Trade Organization