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International regime conflict in trade and environment: the Biosafety Protocol and the WTO

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2004

GILBERT R. WINHAM
Affiliation:
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

Abstract

Trade and environment constitute regimes in international relations: they are vehicles for cooperation between nation states that permit governments to address various subjects such as commercial non-discrimination, reduction of pollution, reciprocity and sustainable development. The issues of food safety and agricultural biotechnology (i.e., genetically modified organisms or GMOs) have been raised in both regimes, and have been managed in different and arguably inconsistent manners. In the trade regime, food safety and ag-biotech are mainly subject to the US-backed principle of ‘scientific risk assessment’ established in the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, while in the environment regime they would likely be addressed through the more politically based ‘precautionary principle’, promoted by the EU and represented in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Both the trade and environment regimes are rules-based, but conflict between them diminishes the force of precision and obligation needed to make rules effective. Furthermore, there is a danger that regime conflict could expand, thereby reducing the opportunity to promote an optimal relationship between science and society in the future.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2003 Gilbert R. Winham

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Footnotes

The author wishes to acknowledge numerous helpful discussions with Julia Moore of the US National Science Foundation and Gretchen Stanton of the WTO and David Cox of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as well as penetrating criticism from WTR anonymous reviewers. Able research assistance and advice were provided by Olivia Baldwin and Cory Binderup. Research support was received from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and a Fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

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