Over the last three decades, the international trade debate has been strongly influenced by the efforts of developing countries to reform the trading system so as to make it more responsive to their needs and aspirations. Those efforts reflected their perception that they had inherited a system in the design of which they had played little or no part, and which was intrinsically biased against their interests. The major policy thrust, embodied in the establishment of UNCTAD and the Group of 77, was the realisation of the need for and the possibility of achieving reform of the system through coordinated negotiating initiatives and solidarity.
In the trade field it was envisaged that such corrective action should take the form of initiatives by developed countries to grant generalised preferential, non-reciprocal and non-discriminatory treatment to developing countries in all areas of international economic cooperation where it might be feasible. The principle of non-reciprocity was incorporated into GATT (in Part IV) in the early 1960s but the first concrete achievement in this regard was the generalised system of preferences (GSP), negotiated in UNCTAD and implemented in 1971. The Tokyo Declaration of 1973 recognised the principles of differential and more favourable treatment in favour of developing countries, and provisions to this effect were incorporated in several of the instruments emerging from the Tokyo Round, including the ‘Enabling Clause’ which legitimised such deviations from MFN treatment in the GATT context. The Punta del Este Declaration reaffirmed the principle of differential and more favourable treatment in respect of the Uruguay Round. Other resolutions, such as the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States dealt with a wider range of issues, particularly investment.