Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT)

S&DT and provisions for technical assistance and capacity building delivery were an integral part of the negotiating process. They now feature in the Section II of the new Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

S&DT in WTO law

Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) in the WTO usually refers to a category of legal provisions in existing WTO agreements that give developing countries greater flexibility with regards to the application of commitments and use of policy instruments and developed countries the right to treat developing countries more favourably. S&DT provisions are usually grouped into four categories:

  • longer time periods for implementing agreements and commitments,
  • measures to increase trading opportunities for these countries,
  • provisions requiring all WTO members to safeguard the trade interests of developing countries,
  • support to help developing countries build the infrastructure for WTO work, handle disputes, and implement technical standards.

In addition to S&DT for all developing countries, some WTO agreements also contain special provisions for least developed countries (LDC). These special conditions for LDC include longer timeframes or exemptions (partial of full) for commitments.
With S&DT, WTO members recognize the different economic situations of developing countries and their needs in implementing the obligations of WTO agreements.

S&DT in the Agreement on Trade Facilitation

S&DT is contained in Section II of the Agreement. A key aspect of the S&DT mechanism is the possibility for developing and least-developed country Members to categorize the substantive obligations into three different categories. Each of these categories provides for different levels of flexibility with regards to implementation time, and preconditions for implementation.

The illustration below shows these different timeframes and in the green and blue boxes the notification delays. Developing and least developed countries can assign Category B and C commitments. This gives them additional time for compliance with the obligations classified as B or C.

(*)This illustration shows maximum timeframes. It also does not show the various possibilities for extension of time periods.


Developing countries have to notify at entry into force their B and C commitments and they have to provide indicative dates and, for the C commitments, the relative technical assistance needs. Only after 12 months do they notify the definitive dates for implementation of their B commitments. Definitive dates are only notified after a period of bilateral negotiations with donors over technical assistance arrangements and progress in the technical assistance delivery.
LDCs only have to notify the B and C commitments 1 year after the entry into force of the Agreement. They have another 2 years to notify the definite dates for the B commitments and only notify the final dates for implementation after a period of max. 4,5 years during which they submit information on technical assistance needs, conduct bilateral negotiations with donors and start implementing the reform and technical assistance projects.

Section II does recognize technical assistance delivery as a precondition for the mandatory implementation and compliance with obligations assigned to category C. Another aspect of Section II is that while the Agreement is subject to the Dispute Settlement Rules, different grace periods are defined for the different category of commitments. Finally, Section II of the Agreement formulates a notification procedure for technical assistance delivery by donor country members and other countries providing technical assistance for the implementation of the Agreement.

Literature