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Globalization and the Environment

Risk Assessment and the WTO

Edited by David Robertson and Aynsley Kellow

One of the unforeseen consequences of the WTO agreements has been controversy over risk. This volume explores aspects of risk with special reference to the WTO, where national instruments to reduce risk may conflict with international trade rules. The book is divided into sections dealing with: accounting for risk in trade agreements; risk and the WTO; managing risk in policy making; negotiating experience with risk; national risks and quarantine standards; and managing biotechnology.
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Chapter 2: Risk and the WTO

Gary P. Sampson


Gary P. Sampson* Risk assessment is the scientific determination of the relationship between cause and effect in situations where adverse effects may occur. While the process of identifying, analysing and assessing risk is the province of experts, risk management – the determination of an acceptable level of risk and the appropriate level of protection (ALOP) – involves elements of political judgement. In many instances, the importance that public opinion assigns to a specific risk appears to bear little relation to science-based risk assessments. For example, cigarette smoking poses a greater scientific risk to health than eating hormone-treated meat, yet in many European countries, the first is tolerated and the second is banned. How risks are managed can provide opportunities for arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on trade and commerce. The prevention of unwarranted discriminatory barriers to trade is the raison d’être for WTO rules and disciplines. The present challenge facing WTO members is implementing its component agreements to provide flexibility for domestic policies without creating disguised barriers to trade. Balancing these conflicting interests can lead to controversy and disputes in international trade. Moreover, public perceptions of risk and their management differ between WTO member countries. The purpose of this chapter is to address the manner in which risk assessment, risk management and public perceptions of risk bear on the work of the WTO. This depends on how the problem presents itself and how the WTO agreements deal with their trade dimension. The intention is not to be prescriptive, nor to cover all...

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