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The rapid expansion of international trade has brought to the fore issues of conflicting national regulations in the area of plant, animal, and human health. These problems include the concern that regulations designed to protect health can also be used for protection of domestic producers against international competition. At a time when progressive tariff reform has opened up markets and facilitated trade, in part responding to consumer demands for access to a wide choice of products and services at reasonable prices, closer scrutiny of regulatory measures has become increasingly important. At the same time, there are clear differences among countries and cultures as to the types of risk citizens are willing to accept. The activities of this conference were based on the premise that risk analyses (i.e., risk assessment, management, and communication) are not exclusively the domain of the biological and natural sciences; the social sciences play a prominent role in describing how people in different contexts perceive and respond to risks. Any effort to manage sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues in international trade must integrate all the sciences to develop practices for risk assessment, management, and communication that recognize international diversity in culture, experience, and institutions.
Uniform international standards can help, but no such norms are likely to be acceptable to all countries. Political and administrative structures also differ, causing differences in approaches and outcomes even when basic aims are compatible. Clearly there is considerable room for confusion and mistrust. The issue is how to balance the individual regulatory needs and approaches of countries with the goal of promoting freer trade. This issue arises not only for SPS standards but also in regard to regulations that affect other areas such as environmental quality, working conditions, and the exercise of intellectual property rights.
This conference focused on these issues in the specific area of SPS measures. This area includes provisions to protect plant and animal health and life and, more generally, the environment, and regulations that protect humans from foodborne risks. The Society for Risk Analysis defines a risk as the potential for realization of unwanted, adverse consequences to human life, health, property, or the environment; estimation of risk is usually based on the expected value of the conditional probability of the event occurring times the consequence of the event given that it has occurred.
The task of this conference and of this report was to elucidate the place of science, culture, politics, and economics in the design and implementation of SPS measures and in their international management. The goal was to explore the critical roles and the limitations of the biological and natural sciences and the social sciences, such as economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and political science in the management of SPS issues and in judging whether particular SPS measures create unacceptable barriers to international trade. The conference's objective also was to consider the elements that would compose a multidisciplinary analytical framework for SPS decision making and needs for future research.