Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 34 Nos. 2

Putting Differentiation into Practice: The Case of Food Security

Published on 1 April 2003

Constantine Michalopoulos makes the point in relation to agriculture that there is neither an economic nor a political case to treat all developing countries in the same way.

Countries such as Argentina and Brazil are clearly highly competitive and parts of their agricultural sectors are well developed. Their needs for support and assistance are very different from those of, say, Kenya, Ghana and Botswana. Yet all five states fall into the same catch-all World Trade Organization (WTO) category of developing country. It is politically unrealistic (and arguably not desirable) for the industrialised countries to offer to Cairns Group members flexibilities on WTO disciplines that would be justified (and might be offered) to Kenya or Ghana.

Claire Melamed has described the question of which countries might be eligible for special and differential treatment (SDT) in future as ‘one of the main stumbling blocks in the current debate on SDT’. There is stalemate because the industrialised countries justify their unwillingness to make significant SDT offers on the grounds that they would apply to all developing countries, while the latter admit to a willingness to consider differentiation only after significant SDT has been offered.

This impasse means that there does not exist, even in embryonic form, a set of potential SDT measures for which appropriate country/socio-economic groupings could be proposed. Instead, the two processes – of fashioning appropriate SDT and identifying groups with special needs – must proceed in parallel in the hope that, in due course, they can be fused.

The article by Constantine Michalopoulos focused particularly on the first process; this article contributes to the second. The problems of country classification can be reduced if SDT can be concentrated on appropriate socio-economic groups (such as poor farmers or vulnerable groups) or on particular commodities (such as staple foods). But, as Constantine Michalopoulos points out, there is a limit to how much differentiation can be achieved in this way. It seems inevitable that, in part, the negotiation will have to grasp the nettle of deciding whether or not some states have more claim to flexibility than others. This article examines one aspect: how to identify “food-insecure states”.

Related Content

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

Cite this publication

Stevens, C. and Kennan, J. (2003) Putting Differentiation into Practice: The Case of Food Security. IDS Bulletin 34(2): 38-51


Christopher Stevens
Jane Kennan

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IDS Bulletin, volume 34, issue 2


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