Devastating WTO Decision

The World Trade Organization on Tuesday issued a preliminary decision finding that European rules restricting genetically engineered crops. The case was brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina.
If the decision is finalized, it will have at least three very serious implications:

1. It will make imposing restrictions on biotech food much more difficult.

2. It will signify the WTO’s readiness to disregard international treaties with provisions that contradict its own — even if those treaties are adopted after the WTO agreements, and even if they are more directly related to a particular dispute than the WTO agreements. In this case, the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity provides that countries may restrict the import of genetically modified crops. The countries that brought the WTO case are not party to the Cartagena Protocol, but the case evidences the WTO’s willingness to ignore the international norms created by other international agreements.

3. It will pose a serious challenge to implementation of the Precautionary Principle, which holds that scientific certainty should not be required before governments may take regulatory action, and that a corporation introducing a new technology or substance should bear the burden of proving it is safe (as opposed to the burden resting on government to show it is unsafe before acting to regulate).

For more information on the case, see:

Washington Post story on the decision

Materials from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

USDA and US Trade Representative release