Implementing the Precautionary Principle
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Implementing the Precautionary Principle

Perspectives and Prospects

Edited by Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and René von Schomberg

This challenging book takes a broad and thought-provoking look at the precautionary principle and its implementation, or potential implementation, in a number of fields. In particular, it explores the challenges faced by public decision-making processes when applying the precautionary principle, including its role in risk management and risk assessment. Frameworks for improved decision-making are considered, followed by a detailed analysis of prospective applications of the precautionary principle in a number of emerging fields including: nanotechnology, climate change, natural resource management and public health policy. The analysis is both coherent and interdisciplinary, employing perspectives from law, the social sciences and public policy with a view to improving both the legitimacy and effectiveness of public policy at national and international levels.
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Chapter 8: Tr(e)ading Cautiously: Precaution in WTO Decision Making

Jan McDonald


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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