- Safe trade
"Safe trade" is a slogan advocated by
Greenpeacein its desire to "green" the World Trade Organisationand the Doha Development Round. It is designed to compete with " free trade" as a concept.
Safe trade is generally seen as a single framework of rules worldwide to drastically inhibit the flow of alien
organisms (e.g. Genetically modified organisms, imported animals) across the borders of ecoregions, to preserve their natural wild biodiversity. It seeks to prevent ecologicaldisasters caused by imported organisms or untested genetic technologies, and to augment and increase local natural capitalby encouraging soil remediation, precision agriculture, and local consumptionof the native species, rather than imported organisms and heavy use of pesticides.
An important achievement of safe
trade advocacyis the Biosafety Protocolagreed in Montrealin January 2000. Although it relied on the weaker legal principle of Informed Consentand not the much stronger Precautionary Principlelanguage sought by advocates, the protocol was considered by most to be a victory that could enhance both biosafetyand biosecurity.
Other safe trade reforms seek to advance
sustainabilityby reducing reliance on energy subsidiesand oil-based transport, and (indirectly) improves equity in economicaffairs - that is, it promotes a safer political economywhich is more respectful of lifein general.
Safe trade is a major goal of systems of
Bioregional democracyand is often advocated alongside it, e.g. by Greens. Both are also implicitly related to Community-Based Economics, as local trade in local goods with no reliance on alien organisms presents no ecological risk to its genomes, soil, or drainage basins. Accordingly, some advocates argue, local trade in any native species within an ecoregion's borders should not be taxed at all, as it presents little or no ecological risk compared to imported goods, and so requires little or no regulation, labelling, inspection, or other expenses.
The assumption that imports carry
moral hazards, and that tax, trade, tariffmeasures should compensate for harms done, is shared by advocates of fair tradewhose programs address, in addition, more overt social justiceconcerns of humanbeings, such as the maintenance of the " human capital" of a region. Both initiatives are alternatives to free trade, which has no such controls, and generally permits and encourages free transit in goods (but not, in general, labour) across ecological and social borders.
A broader understanding of
biosecuritythat is emerging under threat of biological warfare, and the fear that such economically devastating events as the mad cow diseaseepidemic could recur, either deliberately (as an act of bioterrorism) or by accident due to unrestricted imports, is causing some nations, notably New Zealand, to adopt relatively harsh restrictions against imported organisms. As one objective of asymmetric warfareis to cause attacks to appear initially as accidents, or blame slow responses on apparently-incompetent governments, there is some concern that spreading a virulent organism among animals would be an effective way to attack humans, damage economies, and discredit governments who are lax on biosecurity. Technologies for scanning for dangerous organisms at ports and markets are also becoming more reliable and less expensive. However, no bio-defensesolution seems to be able to compete with a simple reduction of import volumes, and its corresponding reduction in risk of any accidents.
Critics of safe trade argue that the
militaryand agricultureaspects of biosecurityare dissimilar, unlikely to converge in the form of an attack disguised as an accident, and require such differential preventionand response measures that there is little risk reduced in altering the fundamental structureof trade relationships to accommodate a robust regime of biosecurity. Such critics usually argue instead that emergency services' biodefensemeasures are sufficient to handle outbreaks of any diseases or alien organisms, and that such outbreaks are unlikely to be long sustained or deliberately masked as agricultural accidents. This, to the advocates, seems like wishful thinking.
Advocates point to the costs of emergency measures such as burning over one million cows suspected of having
foot-and-mouth diseasein the UK, smoke from which they calculated (based on dioxinlevels) was to be expected to kill several hundred Britons from cancers in this generation. Safe trade, they argue, would have removed the need for any such measures, as vaccinationof British beef cattle would have been possible (the burning was to prevent British exports of beef from being rejected by its trade partners, who would not have been able to tell vaccinated from infected beef), and the foot-and-mouth disease was not so dangerous to humans that it could have justified dooming so many fellow citizens to die of the dioxin-caused cancers. The burning, they argue, was justified only by bad trade rules that spread infection and advise dangerous cures that are worse than the ailment itself.
Another argument supporting safe trade rules is that there are links between
primate extinctionand deforestationin the regions where primates are abundant, i.e. the Amazon rainforest, African rainforest, and Sumatran rainforest. Fail to prevent devastating logging in these regions, advocates claim, and a Great Apespecies will likely become extinct, causing a critical link to the human past to be permanently lost. Accordingly, preventing logs from these forests from reaching foreign markets has been a major focus of Greenpeaceactions, especially in 2002.
* [http://www.greenpeace.org/politics/wto/ciel.pdf "Safe Trade in the 21st Century", Greenpeace, Center for Environmental Law]
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