January 20, 2016
With the recent finding in Britain of turkeys infected with the bird flu,Russia and Japan have put in place bans on British poultry.
This raises an interesting issue at the intersection of international health law and international trade. When do countries violate international trade regimes by banning products from other countries? Should it matter if there are potential trade violations, if there is even the slightest risk of the spreading of disease? If trade wins out, especially through powerful international trade regimes, who is protecting the health concerns of the people? It is interesting to note that this also comes up in a more general way because Russia declared US beef to unhealthy, and is now apparently loosening its stance somewhat.
The US saw it as trade protectionism, but some have argued that there actually are reasons to be concerned. A similar situation came up with US poultry in Russia.
A fascinating case is Europe’s attempts to ban genetically modified foods, which the WTO struck down. Is this a case of international trade elites overruling domestic political concerns, or is the WTO right that there was insufficient scientific evidence to show the dangers of genetically modified food?
Food production and distribution is increasingly international and this raises all kinds of concerns not usually at the forefront of international law thinking, but potentially of vital importance. Another interesting side point is just how long international cooperation has been going with respect to international animal health concerns. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) website, it predates the United Nations.
The interaction of experts in international trade and international health, coming to decisions that often supersede those of domestic groups, seems fascinating and complicated. “Private” and corporate regulation, which is supported by an international legal regime with an enforcement mechanism, has more force than the WHO, which lacks any implementation system. Is there an imbalance, or are domestic counterweights sufficient? I am no expert in the international trade of food products, and any comments/etc. would be welcome.