Reforming the Treatment of Developing Countries at the WTO

The principle of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) is widely accepted by World Trade Organization (WTO) Members.

It posits that developing countries should not be obligated to assume the same scope, level, or depth of binding commitments as their developed-country peers. However, with China’s economic rise and the rapid growth of other economies still classed as “developing”, the developed countries now face significant competition from countries benefitting, at least nominally from SDT provisions. Therefore, a ‘business as usual approach’ is unsustainable, and it is apparent that some kind of structured ‘graduation’ from the principle is required or the WTO will be increasingly at risk.


    The United States and European Union, supported by a number of other WTO Members, have advanced different options for reforming SDT. Some developing countries have responded negatively, and so the Geneva process is at an impasse. Novel approaches are needed on how to move beyond the current thinking on SDT, both in terms of which countries qualify and how it allows them to escape WTO commitments taken on by developed-country Members. 

    Our objective

    • Provide practical, evidence-based and insightful proposals for trade policymakers considering avenues for reforming SDT at the WTO.

    Understanding Special and Differential Treatment in the WTO

    Learn about the key findings of a recent study involving a global opinion survey undertaken by The University of Adelaide’s Institute for International Trade intended to enhance understanding of the pertinent issues pertaining to, and different perspectives on, SDT amongst key stakeholders in international trade policy.

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