Trade Policy

By Ashford, Nicholas A. | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Trade Policy


Ashford, Nicholas A., Issues in Science and Technology


In an otherwise insightful and thoughtful article, Sebastian Pfotenhauer (Trade Policy Is Science Policy," Issues, Fall 2013) might better have entitled his contribution "Trade Policy Needs to Be Reconciled with Science Policy." The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the agreements administered by the World Trade Organization, particularly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), were adopted to promote international trade and increase the economic benefits therefrom. Harmonization of environmental, health, and safety, and (EHS) standards and practices was generally not the goal of these agreements, except perhaps for the TBT agreement, which was predicated on EHS standards being based on "strong science" that could result in uniformity dictated by rigorous scientific consensus focused on risk assessments.

NAFTA does not pretend to aspire to harmonization of EHS standards and practices, but rather to encourage its three North American countries to enforce their own laws that differ in their approach to health, safety, and the environment. In the GATT, exceptions to "non-tariff barriers" are specifically reserved to those measures in national law that are necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health; necessary to secure compliance with other laws or regulations that are not inconsistent with the provisions of the GATT; and that pertain to conservation of exhaustible living and nonliving natural resources. Rather than leaving the impression that EHS standards have generally been "declared a barrier to trade," Pfotenhauer might have instead emphasized that the ban of certain asbestos products by France was actually declared permissible in a case brought by Canada against the European Union and that the U.S. ban on shrimp caught along with endangered turtles would have been regarded as permissible were it not for the fact that the United States did not treat restrictions on shrimp imports from Asia the same as the imports of shrimp from other countries. These are very important decisions of the WTO under the GATT that are likely to be controlling legal precedent in future disputes. …

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