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The Role and Limit of Science in the Development of International Trade Norms
Vol. 49, No. 1 (June 2004)
PDF document - Author - Seung Hwan Choi View - 9688
The World Trade Organization (“WTO”) Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (“SPS Agreement”) requires that members either adopt harmonized international standards or, if they choose to maintain stricter domestic regulation, base these on scientific principles, scientific evidence, and risk assessment. Under the scientific evidence requirement, certain regulations to protect health, safety, or the environment, must be based on scientific evidence. In the context of Article 2.2 of the SPS Agreement, the evidence to be considered should be evidence gathered through scientific methods, excluding not only insufficiently substantiated information, but also such things as a non-demonstrated hypothesis. Thus, the scientific evidence requirement lies at the core of the trade disciplines established in the SPS Agreement, and has played an important role in establishing the free trade order by prohibiting disguised restrictions to trade.
Science is, however, in essense uncertain, inconclusive, incomplete and highly tentative. It is hardly objetive and universal. The SPS Agreement invokes science but provides little guidance as to its meaning and application. Science is a much

controversial notion in contemporary thinking, and promises little hope as an objective and neutral standards to resolve trade disputes among nations, with complex and competing scientific views. The scientific evidence requirement conflicts with regulatorary sovereignty in all cases of serious scientific uncertainty, and constrains democratic control for health, safety and the environment. Many developing countries are lack of financial and technical capacity to manage the risk assessment for food safety, and may not be able to provide the sufficient scientific basis for regulations.
Where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient, members may take provisional measures prior to a scientific risk assessment under Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement. Article 5.7 reflects the precautionary principle. Unlike the precautionary principle of international law, members invoking Article 5.7 must seek to obtain the additional information and review the measure within a reasonable period of time, according to the second sentence of Article 5.7. As in the Japan-Agricultural Products, it is not easy to meet these addtional requirements under Article 5.7.
In order to overcome the limits of science, Article 5.7 should be interpreted more flexibly against the outbreak of irrevocable catastrophe, and the precautionary principle of international law should be adopted in Article 20 of the GATT 1994 or the SPS Agreement. Minority scientific opinion should be respected in a scientific risk assessment. A WTO panel should consider all relevant scientific evidences available to it, and respect the minority scientific opinion on risk assessment. So long as human health and life are concerned, the value of life based on the precautionary principle should have priority over the value of free trade.
 
 
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