Schedule approach under WTO law and differential treatment

Legal assistance paper

All reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time the advice was produced (please refer to the date produced below). However, the materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and may have been superseded by more recent developments. They do not constitute formal legal advice or create a lawyer-client relationship. You should seek legal advice to take account of your own interests. To the extent permitted any liability is excluded. Those consulting the database may wish to contact LRI for clarifications and an updated analysis.

Date produced: 03/06/2013

What is the schedule approach used in WTO trade law to capture the differential treatment of parties?

The UNFCCC uses the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and annexes to equitably differentiate between parties to the Convention. However, there are also other approaches. These are not limited to the North-South (developed/developing countries) context and employ a variety of tools and techniques.

The General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for goods and Trade in Services (GATS) comprises broad principles, annexes, and schedules of specific commitments and the lists of exemptions from most favourite nation (MFN) treatment. These detailed and lengthy schedules (or lists) contain the (“bottom-up”) commitments made by individual WTO members allowing specific foreign products or service-providers access to their markets. The schedules are integral parts of the agreements. In the print version they comprise about 30,000 pages for all WTO Members.

For GATT, the schedules take the form of binding commitments on tariffs for goods in general, and combinations of tariffs and quotas for some agricultural goods. For GATS, the commitments state how much access foreign service providers are allowed for specific sectors, and they include lists of types of services where individual countries say they are not applying the “most-favoured-nation” principle of non-discrimination. It is only by reference to a country’s schedule, and (where relevant) its MFN exemption list, that it can be seen to which services sectors and under what conditions the basic principles of the GATS – market access, national treatment and MFN treatment — apply within that country’s jurisdiction.

Each WTO Member is required to have a schedule of “Specific Commitments” which identifies the services for which the Member guarantees market access and national treatment and any limitations that may be attached. The schedule may also be used to assume additional commitments regarding, for example, the implementation of specified standards or regulatory principles. Most schedules consist of both sectoral and horizontal sections. The “Horizontal Section” contains entries that apply across all sectors subsequently listed in the schedule. Horizontal limitations often refer to a particular mode of supply, notably commercial presence and the presence of natural persons. The “Sector-Specific Sections” contain entries that apply only to the particular service.

Consolidated schedules that compile all commitments in force in one document have been (with some exception) prepared by the WTO Secretariat.

The schedules on goods (under GATT) can be accessed for all countries at:

Service schedules (under GATS) are available at: