Modern government inevitably involves attempts to deal with numerous risks which pose threats to citizens and the natural environment (Beck 1992). At the same time, increasing trade liberalisation both brings the possibility of risks being moved across borders and creates the usual winners and losers traditionally found with the politics of economic liberalisation within nations.
The last five years have witnessed a significant increase in the use of trade, investment and market-based environmental instruments in a range of commodities. Despite a trend towards increased trade and investment liberalisation, this trade is being subject to increased environmental scrutiny and regulation. (See Bache, Haward and Dovers, 2000). Trade liberalisation has meant nation states have sought new ways of defending their borders (Vogel, 1995), because tariffs an quotas have been increasingly abandoned in trade negotiations. Policies to deal with quarantine or environmental risks have proved to be attractive means of re-erecting at least partially some of the old barriers of protection. Such policy measures have been politically attractive at the domestic level, particularly because they engender what Yandle has termed Baptist and bootlegger coalitions (Yandle 1989). These are coalitions, not necessarily explicit, between those who support regulation on the basis of some moral position or goal which enjoys strong normative support, and those who stand to benefit economically from the regulation. These are particularly powerful coalitions because the strong normative basis for support not only disempowers opponents, it legitimates what would otherwise be illegitimate: the provision of financial support for political activity based solely on economic self-interest.
These developments in the trade system are beginning to come under critical scrutiny as decisions of WTO Dispute Settlement Panels begin to add flesh to the bones of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures the SPS Agreement (Robertson and Kellow, 2001). Trade restrictions established under SPS criteria are likely to increase, linked to issues related to food safety and quality. Emerging from these decisions are a number of issues for national and subnational politics, which this project proposes to explore. These relate to the ways in which differing economic and regional interests are included into national policy positions under WTO rules. Because Australia is a federation, the regional dimension means that these issues must be considered within the context of federalism and intergovernmental relations. The WTO Salmon case and the Tasmanian moratorium on GM crop trials using quarantine provisions (whereby modified plants have been declared weeds) have both given rise to questions about the ability of states to pursue risk management decisions different from the Commonwealth.
Authorised by the Interim Head of School, Social Sciences
16 August, 2011