What are SDT (or S&DT)?

S&DT is the acronym of Special and Differential Treatment. The term used currently in the WTO context enshrines the principle that allows developing countries special terms regarding compliance with WTO obligations in view of their different or lower state of economic development. This includes receiving preferential access to developed country markets without having to provide a similar access to their own markets, and flexibility in the application of domestic support measures

WWF provides an analysis on recent proposals by developing and emerging economies on fisheries subsidies and particularly S&DT

Establishing appropriate levels of special and differentiated treatment (S&DT) for developing country fisheries subsidies monopolised the agenda as negotiators met at the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules. The S&DT focus was pushed primarily by an in-depth analysis from WWF, called “One Step Forward, Three Steps Back”. At the centre of the analysis is a negotiating proposal tabled by Brazil, China, India, and Mexico in February 2010 (TN/RL/GEN/163).

While WWF has stated its support for broad and effective S&DT, the WWF analysis comes to the conclusion that while parts of the GEN/163 paper appear to take sustainability criteria seriously, a potentially huge carve out for “low income” fishing could give a totally blank check to many, and possibly nearly all, developing countries' fishing activities.

The WWF analysis comments in particular on GEN/163 paper proposals to expand S&DT by allowing subsidies to vessel capacity and operating costs for fishing activities beyond the EEZs of subsidizing developing country members. WWF feels that: ‘This issue is both pressing and difficult. There is a compelling equity argument in favor of S&DT to help developing countries enjoy their rights in international fisheries. On the other hand, the challenge of managing international fisheries is especially severe. Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) often prove weak and ineffective … as developing countries become increasingly powerful players in the global fisheries economy, the threat of a subsidized “South-South” race for fish is a significant and growing danger. WWF feels that the principle of “no blank cheque” must, therefore, apply at least as strongly to subsidies for international fisheries as for domestic subsidies.

However, GEN/163 proposes conditions on S&DT for fishing on international stocks:

  • extending S&DT beyond EEZs only where members enjoy fishing rights created by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) or other binding international instruments;
  • requiring that the applicable RFMO rights be quantitative, science-based, and enforceable.

But WWF feels that ‘While GEN/163 appears to endorse two important elements of sustainability criteria for fisheries subsidies to international fisheries, its ambiguities and limits will need to be corrected before S&DT can be properly extended to developing country distant water fishing activities.’

Read the full report here.