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Taking Interdependence Seriously: The Need for a Reassessment of the Precautionary Principle in International Trade Law

58 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2010 Last revised: 1 Nov 2012

Markus Wagner

University of Warwick - School of Law

Date Written: January 20, 2012


The international economic system is characterized by increasing interdependence. This interdependence is a result of and has led to the creation of rules designed to facilitate international trade, while also taking account of the risks associated with the movement of goods across large distances. However, little attention has been paid to health-related and environmental externalities that, either directly or indirectly, result from the increase in trade, but whose harm is geographically or temporally removed from its source. Given this situation, it is necessary to reassess the global impact of products and how they are produced. The Article uses two examples — climate change and endocrine disrupting compounds (chemicals that can interfere with the human hormonal system) — to show the potential negative effects of today’s economic interdependence. It subsequently explores the utility of the precautionary principle in international trade law. Contentious at many levels, the precautionary principle has received more attention in light of the increasing recognition of scientific uncertainty about the risks associated with certain products or production methods. This Article shows that a carefully delineated version of the precautionary principle can be both sensible and useful in international dispute settlement.

After introducing the issue (I), part II of this Article defines the precautionary principle and shows the limiting factors for the application of the concept, while Part III analyzes the entry points for the precautionary principle in existing WTO law. Part IV provides two examples of how the precautionary principle may be applied in the context of climate change and endocrine disrupting compounds. Finally, Part V analyzes the various options that exist to operationalize the precautionary principle in practice.

Keywords: WTO, precautionary principle, international trade law, international trade

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Markus, Taking Interdependence Seriously: The Need for a Reassessment of the Precautionary Principle in International Trade Law (January 20, 2012). 20 Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, 713 (2012). Available at SSRN:

Markus Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - School of Law ( email )

Gibbet Hill Road
Coventry, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

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