Saturday, June 14, 2003

A clash of trade principles was set into motion Friday with little Palau's ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. On September 11, 2003, the Caragena Protocol will go into effect and become international law alongside the multitude of treaties administered by the World Trade Organization. Get ready for the wrestling match.

On the side of biosafety is Article 10 paragraph 6 of the Cartagena Protocol:
Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the Party of import, taking also into account risks to human health, shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, with regard to the import of the living modified organism . . . in order to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.
This wording is more or less repeated in Article 11 paragraph 8. The quick witted will recognize this language as reflective of the "precautionary principle" -- i.e. don't f*** with something unless you're sure what you're doing.

On the side of "free trade" is Article 2 paragraph 2 of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures:
Members shall ensure that any sanitary or phytosanitary measure is applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, is based on scientific principles and is not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence
and Article 5 paragraph 4:
Members should, when determining the appropriate level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection, take into account the objective of minimizing negative trade effects.
This is language reflective of the "right to trade" -- i.e. I don't give a damn what you're afraid of or what kind of crazy tests you want, you will eat my frankenguava!

This is only a microcosm of what the WTO faces in the future. Up to now, the WTO agreements have been seen as preeminent in the arena of international economic law. However, a host of treaties on labor and environmental standards exists which clash at least in principle and often in letter with the WTO agreements. How to ajudicate between competing laws? There is no global Supreme Court to sort this stuff out. It will be decided instead in the ring of political combat. Put on your gloves, blue-green coalition! Teamsters and turtles need to start training together again.


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