[Answered] Explain the concept of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) in WTO agreements. How can SDT provisions be strengthened to ensure more equitable trade relations between developed and developing countries?

Introduction: Explain the SDT mechanism.

Body: What are its benefits and how can WTO be strengthened?

Conclusion: Future of India in WTO.

The concept of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) is one of the core principles of WTO. The WTO Agreements include unique clauses that grant developing nations particular rights and give wealthy countries the option to treat developing countries more kindly than other WTO Members. Such clauses form the concept of SDT. Recently, there has been a call from the developed world to make changes to the SDT definition & only LDC or Least Developed countries are to be accorded special treatment as India, China, and South Africa don’t qualify for SDT as they are sufficiently developed.

What are the benefits of SDT?

  • SDT ensures higher domestic support for agriculture in developing nations.
  • For countries that have less than $1000 per capita income, there is no prohibition on export subsidy
  • SDT offers longer implementation periods for developing countries to fulfil their commitments under the WTO framework. E.g., may be given of TRIPS.

How can the provision of WTO be strengthened to ensure equitable trade?

  • Strengthen SDT framework: The onus to reform WTO rests on middle powers” such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa. SDT provisions are shrouded in ambiguous language which allows developed nations certain leeway to fulfil their obligations. SDT framework should be spelled out and negotiations should be done to enforce the mechanism strictly.
  • Dispute Settlement Mechanism:It is the most important body of WTO. It hears disputes among nations for violation of WTO rules. The body has been dysfunctional since 2019 following the USA stopping the appointment of Appellate Body members. India as chair of G20 this year needs to persuade the USA to change its position or India should cooperate with like-minded nations to find an alternative.
  • Plurilateral Framework: Since 2017, there has been a shift from a consensus-building approach towards a plurilateral approach for rulemaking. The plurilateral approach makes it easier for developed nations to pursue their subject of interest while ignoring subjects like agriculture subsidies, market access, and services. The need is to develop a framework where plurilateral frameworks are adopted after consensus among members and such a framework should be based on non-discrimination, transparency, and inclusivity.
  • Transparency: All WTO members should notify all their laws, and regulations, to the WTO to ensure transparency else it leads to a high cost of trade for developing nations.


Trade multilateralism should be the core agenda of developing countries like India which is head of G20 this year and assumes responsibility for the developing world. India should work with members to be a part of WTO reform and make trade multilateralism inclusive and sustainable.

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