Western Ideology, Japanese Product Safety Regulation and International Trade

University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 19, p. 315, 1985

60 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2009

See all articles by S. David Cohen

S. David Cohen

Pace University - School of Law

Karen Martin

University British Columbia

Date Written: 1985


This paper proposes to deal with domestic consumer protection laws and standards regulation, which have their roots in both categories. While most trade analysts differentiate between cultural and standards barriers, we hope to demonstrate that culture and social custom are not nicely distinguishable from law. Design standards, testing and certification requirements, positive substance lists and other recognized non-tariff barriers are as much a reflection of culture as are buyer-supplier customary norms and consumer preferences for goods produced in Japan. Although many product standards are explicitly set by government, either directly or through subsidiary administrative agencies, this paper will illustrate that it will be a far more intractable process to adapt these standards to meet the demands of Japan's Western trading partners than it was to modify existing tariff and quota structures. These non-tariff barriers are deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and psyche, are not obviously motivated by protectionist objects, are often unarticulated and non-specific in their effect, and are not subject to reform through traditional international trade liberalization agreements.

In this paper the substantive and procedural aspects of products liability law and the standards systems in place in Japan will be outlined in order to show how they differ from the analogous products liability regime and standards systems in Canada. Although foreign manufacturers frequently avoid insurance, product design, and litigation costs related to products liabiity risks, Canadian manufacturers exporting to Japan must comply with a wide range of standards and certification regulations. We conclude that product safety regulation in Japan, manifested both in product standards and in products liability law, is a reflection of Japanese history, culture, religion, and structural and institutional constraints on litigation, and that it is unrealistic, if not arrogant, for the West to dismiss summarily these standards as being merely protectionist barriers, or to demand their modification in accordance with our regulatory philosophies.

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Samuel David and Martin, Karen, Western Ideology, Japanese Product Safety Regulation and International Trade (1985). University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 19, p. 315, 1985, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1517961

Samuel David Cohen (Contact Author)

Pace University - School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

Karen Martin

University British Columbia

2329 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4

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