In a recent phone call between Wall St. Journal reporter Bob Davis and President Trump, the president expressed his objection to the WTO's categorization of China as a "developing country". In UN agreements, developing countries receive extra help with finance and support with technical matters.

Is China categorized by the UN as a developing country? By the IMF? Other international bodies?


The UN and IMF both include China in their lists of developing economies as of 2018. The WTO has no official list of developed/developing countries, it's up to member nations to announce that they are developing countries and it is up to other members to challenge those members' attempts to use provisions offered to developing countries.

Here is a UN report on the world economy, and China is referred to as a developing economy throughout it (such as the table of economic growth on page 3). The Wikipedia page on developing countries mentions the IMF list of developing economies for 2018 (with a citation that leads to a direct download of their report), on which China is included.

As for the WTO, they have the following to say about developing countries under WTO rules:

There are no WTO definitions of “developed” and “developing” countries. Members announce for themselves whether they are “developed” or “developing” countries. However, other members can challenge the decision of a member to make use of provisions available to developing countries.


That a WTO member announces itself as a developing country does not automatically mean that it will benefit from the unilateral preference schemes of some of the developed country members such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). In practice, it is the preference giving country which decides the list of developing countries that will benefit from the preferences.

  • Thanks, Giter! Follow-up question: can we unilaterally decide, specifically within the WTO, not to treat China as a developing country? Nov 27 '18 at 19:55
  • Giter has already quoted the relevant sections that answer the followup. "In practice, it is the preference giving country which decides the list of developing countries that will benefit from the preferences."
    – James K
    Nov 27 '18 at 20:11
  • @elliotsvensson: If by 'we' you mean some WTO member, then the answer is probably "it depends". As mentioned in the info from the WTO site, some programs that have special provisions that are entirely one member's choice on whether to give some other member those benefits. I'm sure there are cases of benefits for developing countries that are resolved in the WTO's dispute system, but that's more of a separate question.
    – Giter
    Nov 27 '18 at 20:16
  • @Giter, sorry, I got carried away... could USA do that? Nov 27 '18 at 20:19

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