Trade Policy at Work

Middle East and North Africa Trade Forum: Development and SDT Issues

The meeting discussed the ongoing debate on Special & Differential Treatment (SDT) based on a recent study by Dr Muhammad Irfan, Counsellor at Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the WTO titled: “Debate on Special and Differential Treatment in the Multilateral Trading System: Past, Present and Future”.

The meeting started by a presentation of the paper given by Dr Irfan. Dr Irfan tracked the historical evolution of SDT leading up to the present deadlock concerning its reform and the various solutions proposed by developed countries in the form of laying down criteria for development status, or following a case-by-case approach which didn’t generate any support from developing countries. Finally, the paper argued that forcing arbitrary criteria for development or adopting selective approaches to SDT could be futile and unyielding in terms of the future of negotiations. It suggests a more pragmatic approach with a voluntary opt-out option for countries could provide a possible solution.

The delegates appreciated the paper, especially that it traced the idea of SDT back to the early days of the war and the early talks of the GATT agreement in the 1940s. It uncoverd the original reasoning for SDT and why it is now a key pillar of the Multilateral Trading System. The deliberations emphasised that SDT is crucial for a meaningful participation of developing countries and LDCs in the MTS. However, until now the access to SDT provisions is met by many challenges preventing their effective operationalisation to respond to the specific needs of these countries. Negotiating the reform of SDT with a focus on reaching pragmatic solutions can allow an exit for years of impasse In concluding Delegates praised the discussions and undertook to share topics and issues for consideration in future MENA Forum Meetings in the drive up to MC 12.

The meeting is part of a project implemented by CUTS to support the informed participation of LDCs and Smaller Developing Country WTO delegates in WTO negotiations in the run-up to the 12th WTO Ministerial conference.