Perspectives and Prospects
Edited by Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and René von Schomberg
Chapter 8: Tr(e)ading Cautiously: Precaution in WTO Decision Making
Jan McDonald1 1. INTRODUCTION Of all the principles of sustainable development, the precautionary principle is at once the most alluring and elusive. It oﬀers the reassurance of a ‘do no harm’ philosophy, but lacks the necessary clarity for direct implementation or application. ‘Precaution’ attempts to bridge the gap between the innovative powers of science and its capacity to anticipate and predict consequences (Harremoës et al. 2002, p. 209); in regulatory terms, it recognizes that prevention is better than cure. The concept of precaution in environmental and health decision making has emerged at a time when international economic activity is expanding in size and geographical scope, largely spurred by the very technological innovation that precaution responds to. The domination of economic developmentalist discourse in global politics means that precaution is constantly under pressure; criticized for being anti-progress. Nowhere are these tensions better demonstrated than within the principal vehicle for global economic integration, expansion and liberalization – the World Trade Organization (WTO). As part of this book exploring the implementation of the principle, this chapter examines precaution in the law and practice of the WTO. This chapter is organized into three sections. Section two brieﬂy sketches the features of precautionary decision making that can then be used to examine WTO law and practice. Section three then considers whether these features are reﬂected in the decisions of dispute settlement panels and the WTO Appellate Body (AB) dealing with the General Agreement on Tariﬀs and Trade (GATT), the Agreement on...
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