Precaution "the key" to new trade round

EU commissioner says precautionary principle must be defined to avoid further trade wars

EU Commission acting vice-president Leon Brittan today identified the definition of the precautionary principle as one of the key elements to successful global trade liberalisation negotiations in the future.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels, the commissioner in charge of much of the EU's foreign policy, said he hoped the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would "find a way of giving greater definition" to the principle "to prevent it from being invoked in an abusive way". Sir Leon told the conference - organised to mark the launch of a new cooperation pact between environmental NGOs in the EU and north America - that the precautionary principle "strikes at the heart of some of the most difficult policy issues we face today".

But he said that there was often "uncertainty over [its] interpretation and implementation," which could lead to accusations that some countries were applying excessively cautious environmental protection policies in order to protect their markets and stifle free trade. He pointed to genetically modified organisms as an area where different interpretations of the precautionary principle might lead to transatlantic trade disputes unless the principle can be properly defined.

There were "differences of perspective" between US and EU policy makers on the subject as well as considerable differences in public attitudes, which would require greater understanding between the two regions, he said.

Although Sir Leon is known as a champion of trade liberalisation, he made a staunch defence of the EU's right to apply the precautionary principle to protect the environment and human health. He told the conference: "We should look for common ground and for greater mutual understanding, whilst making it clear that we are committed to preserving our existing levels of environmental and consumer protection."

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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