International Trade and Health Protection
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International Trade and Health Protection

A Critical Assessment of the WTO’s SPS Agreement

Tracey Epps

This book examines and critiques the WTO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), asking whether it strikes an appropriate balance between conflicting domestic health protection and trade liberalization objectives.
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Chapter 9: Perception of Risks: The Role of Public Perceptions

Tracey Epps


9.1 INTRODUCTION Regulations to protect health reflect a government’s regulatory response to risk and it is this response which WTO panels and the Appellate Body are called upon to judge under the SPS Agreement’s science-based framework. An examination of domestic regulatory decision-making in response to risk will allow a closer assessment of the appropriateness of the science-based framework and the charge made by some that it interferes unduly with countries’ regulatory sovereignty. It has been observed that in many cases, trade disputes over health regulations are attributable to the existence of regulatory divergence between countries. A number of factors account for such divergence, including how risks are perceived in different societies. This chapter draws on literature in the growing field of risk perception to examine attitudes to risk in Western society, as well as how it is perceived by lay people as compared to experts, and how differences between public and expert perceptions may be dealt with by regulators. 9.2 RISK IN WESTERN SOCIETY The rise in Western society of health-related regulation over the past 30 years is primarily attributed to what Sunstein coins ‘1970s environmentalism’.1 This movement was motivated in large part by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s classic book Silent Spring, which documented, among other things, the risks associated with pesticides and insecticides. A key aspect of the book was the notion that a new technology which seems harmless and beneficial might have serious long-term effects on the environment, wildlife, and human health. 1 Cass R. Sunstein,...

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