2023 Summer/Winter School – Biosafety Measures, Technology Risks and the World Trade Organization: Transforming Trade in the Current Technological Era

Date and Time: WEDNESDAY 13 September 2023, 12noon-1.30pm CEST



This lecture explores the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO), with a focus on the capacity of its judiciary to strike a reasoned balance between free trade in biotechnology and biosafety as to promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Biotechnology is sometimes regarded as a panacea for modern-day challenges, such as feeding a growing world population and counteracting climate-change problems, and a means of offering significant economic opportunities. Because of its benefits, international trade in biotech products is flourishing. For example, during the first 22 years of commercialisation of biotech products, the United States (US), India, Brazil, China and Canada have gained the most economically from trading biotech crops, totalling US$172.5 billion.

Nevertheless, biotechnology and trade have also been described as ‘the elements from which modern nightmares are made’ (Cinnamon Carlarne, 2007, 302). This is because trading biotech products simultaneously magnifies the spread of the risks posed by these products, mainly to human health and the environment. Examples of such risks include allergenicity to a novel gene product, antibiotic resistance and the increasing use of pesticides on genetically modified (GM) crops. Trading biotech products can also cause loss of biodiversity and, more generally, damage the environment in which biotech products are cultivated for trade.

This lecture explores the topical, though still underexplored, question of how to find a point of equilibrium between the revolutionary advancement offered by technology and the need to safeguard biosafety from uncertain, though potentially irreversible, technology risks. It offers a thorough analysis of normative, judicial and epistemic issues hindering a reasoned balance between trade and non-trade interests (such as environmental protection) under the WTO.


Dr Alessandra Guida – https://pure.qub.ac.uk/en/persons/alessandra-guida


Alessandra Guida, Biosafety Measures, Technology Risks and the World Trade Organization Thriving and Surviving in the Age of Biotech (Routledge, 2023)

Carlos Bernal Pulido, ‘The Rationality of Balancing’ (2006) 92(2) Archiv fuer Rechts- und Sozial Philosophie 195

Sarah Joseph, Blame It on the WTO? A Human Rights Critique (Oxford University Press, 2011)