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Map of the Month

Least-developed countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO)

by Dr. Olaf Wientzek, Cedric Amon

Map of the Month 05/2023

Currently, 46 countries worldwide are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs). This status allows the designated countries to obtain concessions, preferential market access and technical assistance, particularly in the area of trade. The LDC negotiating group at the WTO regularly calls for more flexibility and longer transition periods of trade facilitation for countries which successfully graduated from the LDC status or are on the verge of graduating.

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The LDC negotiating group argues that the removal of preferential market access and technical assistance shortly after their graduation could overburden these countries. They would thus be at risk of being sliding back into LDC status, especially considering that the WTO has only very few adapted support programmes for a "smooth transition" (UNGA Res. 67/221) of graduating LDCs. The proposal to implement longer transition periods during which (graduated) LDCs  can rely on special and differential treatment (SDT) for LDCs is generally viewed favourably by most WTO members. In detail, however, the proposal that LDCs could make use of these provisions for up to 12 years after their graduation is viewed critically. For many developing and least developed countries, the adoption of these proposals is equated with delivering on the promise of the Doha Development Agenda and is therefore politically sensitive.


The status of LDCs is reviewed and reassessed every three years by the Committee for Development Policy Commission (CDP) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). LDCs are assessed according to three criteria:

  • Average per capita gross national income (GNI) over the three-year period
  • Human Assets Index (HAI), which mainly consists of health and education indices (i.e. mortality rates or school enrolment ratio).
  • Economic and environmental vulnerability index.

To graduate from the group of LDCs, candidates must meet at least two of the criteria in two consecutive review cycles. Conversely, a non-LDC that fails to meet all three criteria during one review cycle can be added to the list of LDCs. The next triennial review will take place in 2024. Further details on graduation from or inclusion in the LDC group can be found here.

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Contact Person

Dr. Olaf Wientzek

Olaf Wientzek bild

Director of the Multilateral Dialogue Geneva +41 22 748 70 70


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