Academic journal article Global Governance

Operationalizing Special and Differential Treatment in the World Trade Organization: Game Over?

Academic journal article Global Governance

Operationalizing Special and Differential Treatment in the World Trade Organization: Game Over?

Article excerpt

  The notion of providing special and differential treatment to
  developing countries has a long history in the World Trade
  Organization, but some commentators continue to question its
  rationale and practical effectiveness in supporting development and
  integration into the multilateral trading system. In particular,
  while operationalizing special and differential treatment is one of
  the important tasks of negotiators in the ongoing Doha Round, some
  argue that this will not only be difficult, but in fact impossible to
  achieve. Doubtless, special and differential treatment cannot of
  itself solve the problems of the developing world, and relying too
  heavily on this kind of discrimination will ultimately disadvantage
  developing country WTO members. Nevertheless, in achieving a
  successful conclusion to the Doha Round, members must take greater
  account of the different needs of developing countries and adopt more
  concrete provisions in this regard than are currently contained in
  the Uruguay Round agreements. In general, WTO members themselves
  appear to have accepted this responsibility, despite the slow
  progress in this as in many other areas of the negotiations. Ideally,
  this process should involve in-depth economic analysis to identify
  measurable criteria for granting special and differential treatment
  to particular countries under specific provisions. If these criteria
  can be agreed and incorporated into the WTO agreements, no new
  independent bodies will be required to assess individual cases
  separate from the established WTO dispute settlement system.
  KEYWORDS: World Trade Organization, developing countries,
  international trade, international law, multilateral
  negotiations.

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As the Doha Round drags on, many are looking with increasing skepticism at its Development Agenda, concerned that even a successful end to the negotiations will be no more development-friendly than was the Uruguay Round before it. That round concluded with the successful creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. But since then, it has become clearer that developed countries fared better in the final outcome, with fewer disciplines imposed in areas critical to developing countries, such as agriculture and textiles, and more in areas traditionally the province of developed countries, such as intellectual property. From the time that the Doha Round commenced in 2001, many WTO members, commentators, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have called for greater emphasis on special and differential treatment for developing countries in the WTO in order to improve support for development and rebalance the playing field. In particular, these voices insist that the existing special and differential treatment provisions in WTO law must be operationalized. Indeed, the ministerial declaration that launched the Doha Round specifically mandated a review of all special and differential treatment provisions "with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational." (1)

Special and differential treatment sounds, on first hearing, like an ideal solution to developing countries' difficulties in meeting their peoples' needs, complying with WTO law, and competing in the global market. However, do developing countries need more special differential treatment or less? And is the WTO the right forum for addressing development concerns? Michael Finger (formerly lead economist at the World Bank) recently described the attempt to operationalize special and differential treatment as "heartfelt but ill-defined and ultimately fruitless," declaring that the WTO members' work in this regard in the Doha Round has unsurprisingly "c[o]me to nothing." (2) He has since queried whether the WTO has anything useful to do in this area. (3) This highlights the complexities and limitations of special and differential treatment. …

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