Keywords: science, standards, trade policy, trade negotiations, trade agreements, trade disputes, agricultural biotechnology, precaution, substantial equivalence, WTO, SPS, Cartagena Protocol, science diplomacy, scientific consensus
Science on the tap, not on the top
Science plays an increasingly important role in trade policy and negotiations. A large number of trade agreements rely on scientific expertise for their work. Science is negotiated in setting environmental and health standards: trade disputes had highlighted the role of science as the legal test in the WTO. Historically, it was the negotiations on agriculture that triggered interest in science as an alternative approach to regulating trade, with food safety emerging as a major concern. The recent extension of the phytosanitary domain to include biosafety represents the biggest challenge to the trade policy – a challenge of taking the WTO into the area of adjudicating on the appropriateness of domestic regulations. Forming and managing the scientific consensus underlying trade-related rule-making, standard-setting and regulatory activities at the national, regional and international levels present formidable challenges. The notion of science diplomacy refers to activities of international cooperation and compromise on issues with a heavy scientific input. These activities and resulting networks offer excellent opportunities to share resources and hedge against diplomatic failures through exchanging experiences, opening countries up to better funding opportunities from international sources and sharing organisational capacity and expertise.