Emerging Powers in the World Trading System: Contestation of the Developing Country Status and the Reproduction of Inequalities

Clara Weinhardt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article investigates discursive struggles over the boundaries of the categorisation of developing countries in the world trade
regime. A key principle of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
grants special rights to the group of developing countries.
Recently, it has become highly contested whether emerging
economies such as China can legitimately claim to belong to the
group of developing countries. This article uncovers how old and
new economic powers have tried to strategically (re)frame the
boundaries of the developing country categorisation in the WTO. I
argue that ongoing contestation reproduces inequalities because
many developing countries are unwittingly negatively affected by
the lack of formal criteria for classifying emerging economies—
even if emerging economies themselves may benefit. In doing so,
I illustrate how informal practices of classification may undermine
the original intention of categorisation in International Organizations that aims to address inequality among its members.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-408
Number of pages21
JournalGlobal Society
Issue number3
Early online dateMar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • Emerging powers
  • WTO
  • constructivism
  • inequality
  • trade

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