“Developing” Countries’ Arrested Development

Most people accept the need to grant special treatment to developing countries in trade and climate-change talks. But, while many "developing" countries are ready to take on greater responsibilities for fighting climate change, global trade rules allow them to remain beneficiaries of "special and differential" treatment indefinitely.

GENEVA – The World Trade Organization and global climate-change negotiations face comparable challenges. Both need to accommodate different levels of development and match them with appropriate obligations. Even the jargon is similar: “common but differentiated responsibility” in the climate-change talks, and “special and differential” in the WTO.

Similarly, the classic North-South divide that shapes both sets of negotiations recalls the era when “North” was a synonym for “rich,” and “South” was shorthand for those who could not afford to play by the same rules. The world has changed dramatically since then, and in the climate-change negotiations it is now accepted that some developing countries will need to undertake emission reductions by 2020.

The WTO is a step behind. Based exclusively on its own self-assessment, any member can claim to be “developing” and remain at that stage, which automatically entitles them to the benefits of “special and differential” (S&D) treatment. That translates into derogations from general rules and longer periods to introduce less ambitious tariff reductions.

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