Risk Assessment and the WTO
Edited by David Robertson and Aynsley Kellow
Chapter 1: Introduction: accounting for risk in trade agreements
David Robertson The WTO agreements extended the GATT principles of non-discrimination and transparency into new areas of international commerce, strengthening and clarifying trade rules and extending them to cover trade in agriculture and services, establishing new agreements on trade-related investment measures and intellectual property rights, and introducing an understanding on dispute settlement procedures. Subsequently, new objectives were added to meet developing countries’ special interests, and trade and the environment. This enlargement of trade subject to international rules, however, has increased tensions among the WTO membership, which has reached 135, and generated trade disputes over interpretations of the complex new agreements. The Uruguay Round final act contains much bureaucratic language and many ‘constructive ambiguities’ to mask differences, all of which were necessary for a negotiated text to be agreed. In fact, new tensions have surrounded the rapid growth in international trade and globalization in the past decade. The new WTO agreements were incomplete and some texts contained ambiguities which increased the scope for disputes among members and placed unexpected pressures on the new dispute settlement understanding. Moreover, the new dispute settlement procedures introduced unforeseen issues, including the concept of ‘risk’ which had to be assessed and allowed for in dispute hearings. A complaint of ‘unfair’ trade protection arising from quarantine or technical regulations required an assessment of the consequences of changing them to meet international standards, which would include an analysis of risk of disease or damage. The WTO is not equipped to assess scientific risk or to establish international standards,...