Developing-country status at the WTO: the divergent strategies of Brazil, India and China

Till Schöfer*, Clara Weinhardt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The global power shift towards Brazil, India, China and other non-western powers has led to pressures to adjust international institutions to new economic realities. Most power shift theories assume that established powers defend their institutional privileges, while emerging powers challenge them. Conversely, in this article we reverse this assumption by shedding light on ‘privileges’ of the weak: many international institutions have established special rights for disadvantaged regime members. We ask what strategies emerging powers adopt as they come under pressure to give up these rights commonly reserved for regime members with developing country status. We present a novel conceptualization of four ideal-typical strategies that combine elements of resistance and accommodation. Empirically, we examine the strategies that Brazil, India and China (BICs) have adopted in the World Trade Organization. We find that no uniform approach exists across the BICs: while India fiercely resists giving up its status as a developing country and the flexibilities it comes with, Brazil adopts a pragmatic approach that largely accommodates established powers' demands to give up special rights reserved for developing countries. China pursues a mixed strategy of selective accommodation and resistance. These findings contribute to recent debates on global power shifts by illustrating how material incentives and status considerations shape the adaptation of international institutions as privileges for the weak are re-negotiated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1937–1957
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2022

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