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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 3: Risk, the environment and MEAs

Neil Byron


Neil Byron It is increasingly popular to paint a demonized image of the WTO as the ‘World Trans-Science Organization, a global meta-regulator’. It is allegedly resolving scientific issues such as carcinogenicity, decreeing what are acceptable levels of risk or scientific uncertainty, and making decisions about appropriate levels of public health and safety. In doing so, it stands accused of overriding the role and authority of national governments to protect their people and their lands. It might seem like exaggerated rhetoric, except for the fact that there are some who believe it, and these critics – or opponents – have some powerful allies, particularly amongst international environmental NGOs and on the fringes of secretariats to the MEAs. This suggests that the trade–environment debate suffers from a serious communication failure or worse. Some environmentalists apparently want to transform the WTO into the supreme guardian of the Earth’s environment. Their goals and standards for the international environmental agenda would come from MEAs. Those goals and standards would be incorporated into the WTO, making trade restrictions and bans the instrument of choice for environmental policy. The discussions and protests over genetically modified foods indicate the control consumers in developed countries would like to acquire over certain production processes. Sampson’s chapter takes us through a discussion of risk and rationality, noting the irrationality, or at least inconsistency, of many government decisions based on perceived public demands or opinions. The case is built up from general trade–environment linkages and the existing (and prospective) role and the...

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