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[GreenYes] Global Trade Rules
    According to the August 8, 2001 Wall Street Journal ("Is EU's
Environmental Push Protectionism?", p. A9), the European Commission has
asked that the agenda for the next round of trade talks include the
Precautionary Principle.  In the immediate case, the EC would like to
increase the maximum allowed levels of aflotoxin, a contaminant in food that
can lead to acute liver cancer.

    The trade advocates who advance unrestricted trade -- and the override
of national/local laws that might in any way impede transnational market
flows -- argue that the very low levels of aflotoxin which the EC would like
to impose and not be overriden by the WTO are really a thinly disguised
trade barrier to fence out agricultural products from Africa which has more
difficulty than the developed world holding down contamination levels.

    This issue really symbolizes the battle for defining how trade rules can
restrict a country from adopting environmental/consumer standards that its
people feel provides an appropriate level of protection of human health and
the natural world.

    I would have to concede that unfettered right of local environmental
laws to stop imports could be abused as a back door vehicle for styming fair
trade, and that would produce lower overall global wealth (whether that
increased wealth will be fairly distributed to those outside the corridors
of economic power is, however, exceedingly unclear).

    However, I would hope that fair minded free traders would also admit
that the current regime that requires a high level of proof of harm to
survive a WTO challenge essentially does the reverse. It concludes by
operation of the current rules, not scientific fact, that suspected but not
yet proven dangers pose zero risk.

    When looks at the history of epidemiological research since WWII, and
the plummeting levels of acceptable risk of lead, arsenic and so forth that
we now know is needed to protect human health, it is inescapably clear that
the current state of scientific knowledge -- at any given point in time --
will have failed to detect and prove all of the environmental harms posed by
chemicals and other factors that later advances in scientific knowledge will
later unearth.

    When DDT was first evaluated, the sole basis that science had for
testing was whether it killed people outright. (Indeed when family members
cleared out Leopold's Sand County shed, in the back of a closet they found a
bottle with a powder inside it and a note scotch taped to the outside in
Leopold's handwriting: "This may be the answer." Chemical analysis showed
the power to be DDT.)

    The fact of bioaccumulation, long incubating cancer risks, immune
suppression, generic interference, etc., took decades to learn. And imagine
the long list of factors that have yet to learn even today.

    The real challenge, then, is not to, out of hand, reject the
Precautionary Principle, which makes a heck of a lot of sense when it is
removed from the potential for abuse in trade wars between countries.
Rather it is to develop an analytic model that helps reduce the potential
for abusing the sound basis for using the Precautionary Principle to
manageable levels.


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100
Fax (608) 233-0011

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