Special treatment under WTO rules

LDCs that are members of the WTO benefit from special considerations in their implementation of WTO agreements. Special and differential treatment (S&D) provisions for LDCs aim principally to facilitate compliance with WTO rules in view of the limited capacities of LDCs; to protect their policy space; and to support them in increasing their participation in international trade by addressing supply-side constraints and supporting trade-related elements of development strategies.   The Sub-Committee on LDCs follows the work programme for the LDCs, which covers systemic issues of interest to LDCs in the multilateral trading system.

LDCs that are not members of the WTO benefit from support for the accession process.

The table below provides an overview of the main provisions that are currently applicable, in addition to preferential market access for goods and services. Some of these provisions are applicable only to those LDCs who were founding members of the WTO, and some applied only for certain time periods after the entry into force of the various WTO agreements. LDCs that are newly acceded WTO members have in some cases waived their access to LDC-specific support measures in the negotiations with other WTO members on their accession packages. In addition to the provisions listed in the table, there are also a number of references within agreements and decisions whereby WTO members generally commit to taking the needs of LDCs into account, to ensuring capacity-building for LDCs in the fulfilment of their commitments under the WTO, and to furthering their participation in world trade. The content below is intended to provide an easy reference to the main special and differential treatment provisions under the WTO agreements. For legal texts and the most up-to-date information, please refer to www.wto.org.

Special and differential treatment to LDCs under WTO agreements and related decisions

Agreement/Decision LDC-specific provisions
Understanding on the Balance-of-Payments Provisions of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) LDCs may use simplified procedures when invoking trade restrictions for balance-of-payment reasons (paragraph 8)
Agreement on Agriculture LDCs and net food importing developing countries may provide certain export subsidies until the end of 2030 (article 9.4 of the Agreement on Agriculture, Ministerial Decision of 19 December 2015 (WT/MIN(15)/45-WT/L/980, G/AG/5/Rev.10)
Longer repayment periods for export financing support (WT/MIN(15)/45-WT/L/980)
Less frequent notifications to WTO regarding domestic support (every two years instead of every year) (G/AG/2)
Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Priority for technical assistance (article 9.1). The Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) has a target of dedicating at least 40% of total project financing allocated to LDCs or Other Low-Income Countries (STDF Operational Rules)
Lower co-financing requirement for technical assistance. Beneficiaries from LDCs and OLICs contribute at least 10% of the requested STDF contribution to a project, as opposed to 20% for lower-middle-income countries and 60% for upper-middle-income countries (STDF Operational Rules)
Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures LDCs (and other countries with GNI per capita below $1,000 in constant 1990 dollars) are exempted from the prohibition of export subsidies (article 27.2 and Annex VII of the Agreement and paragraph 10.1 of the Doha Ministerial Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns (WT/MIN(01)/17))
Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) Longer notification time frames: until 22 February 2020 for category B measures; until 22 February 2021 for indicative dates and definitive dates; by 22 August 2022 for category C measures (articles 15 and 16)
Longer deadlines under the early warning mechanism, in case an LDC has difficulties in implementing categories B and C measures (article 17)
Longer time frame (4 years rather than 18 months) for new implementation dates for measures shifted from category B to category C before approval from the Trade Facilitation Committee is required (article 19)
Longer grace period from dispute settlement (until 22 February 2023 for category A measures, and 8 years from the date of implementation of category B or C measures (article 20)
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Exemption from applying substantive TRIPS standards until 2021 (article 66.1, latest extension IP/C/64)
Exemption from providing protection for pharmaceutical patents, from providing the possibility of filing mailbox applications and from granting exclusive marketing rights until 2033 (IP/C/73 and WT/L/971)
Waiver from notification requirements for issuing compulsory licenses for exports of pharmaceutical products to LDCs or other countries with insufficient manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector (article 31 bis)
Promotion of technology transfer by enterprises and institutions in developed countries (article 66.2)
Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) Article 24 of the DSU refers to “special procedures involving LDCs”.  WTO Members are to “exercise due restraint both in raising matters involving LDCs and in asking for compensation or seeking authorization to suspend concessions or other obligations if nullification or impairment is found to result from a measure taken by an LDC” (24.1). LDCs can request the Director-General of the WTO or the Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body to provide their good offices, conciliation and mediation services for settling disputes (24.2).
Related: the Advisory Center on WTO Law (ACWL) provides Legal advice, support during WTO dispute settlement and training. LDCs have access to these services whether or not they have joined as members.
Trade Policy Review Mechanism LDCs may have a longer period between trade policy reviews than other countries (longer than the 6 years that apply to countries that are not among the 20 largest in terms of share of world trade) (Annex 3 of the Uruguay Round Agreements)
Trade-Related Investment Measures Annex F of the Declaration of the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference allowed LDCs to maintain, on a temporary basis, existing measures that deviated from their obligations under the TRIMs Agreement. The provision applied to measures that were notified within a two-year period, which were then allowed to continue for another seven years. LDCs were also allowed to introduce new measures that deviated from their obligations under the TRIMs Agreement under certain conditions. All measures are to be phased out by year 2020.

Source: CDP secretariat, based on the texts of WTO agreements and decisions and information provided by the WTO secretariat.

There are also a number technical assistance provisions for LDCs under WTO agreements, as well as training and technical assistance activities delivered by the WTO Secretariat.


References and resources

WTO website: www.wto.org

WTO Sub-Committee on LDCs

Last updated: 24 January 2019