TWN Info Service on Finance and Development (Jul19/03)
5 July 2019
Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues,

For several years now, the issue of self declaration of development status by countries has been challenged by developed countries.

Common but Differentiated Responsibilities is a core principle of the United Nations sustainable development framework and legally binding treaties, just as Special and Differential Treatment is core to the multilateral trade rules of the World Trade Organization.

While significant progress has been made in many developing countries, there are also many countries that continue to have major development challenges, with some even witnessing de-industrialisation. At the same time, inequality has also risen in many respects. A new paper by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released in June 2019 provides a valuable contribution to the on-going discussions at the WTO on "self differentiation".

The paper titled "From Development to Differentiation: Just how much has the world changed?" (UNCTAD Research paper No. 33) highlights the persistent North-South Divide in the following areas: Structural, Infrastructure, Fiscal, Employment and Digital. It concludes that development goes much beyond trade, and that the consequences of multiple interactive challenges can only be fully assessed by countries themselves who should, therefore, be allowed to self-declare their development status.

Below is the abstract, and the full paper can be obtained at


Given the divergent growth performances of developing countries since the establishment of the WTO, there is a growing debate on whether these can still be collectively categorized as 'developing' and whether those that have enjoyed sustained growth over the past quarter century should continue to receive special treatment in the context of trade, and by implication other international negotiations. This paper traces the history and reasons for the emergence of special and differential treatment provisions in the trade negotiations. It examines various development indicators in order to assess whether the developing world has evolved to the extent that a change in this basic principle of the multilateral trading system is required. The paper argues that the economic and social gaps between developed and developing countries remain significant despite the gains in some countries over the last quarter century. Moreover, the policy challenges of 21st century facing all parts of the developing world, including those triggered by the growing digital divide and environmental degradation, are mounting just as the commitment of advanced economies to international development cooperation is waning. The paper concludes that development goes much beyond trade and includes multiple economic, social and environmental challenges and their interaction, the consequences of which can only be fully assessed by countries themselves who should, consequently, be allowed to self-declare their development status. 

With best wishes,

Third World Network