Regulation gets a bad name in much of the world today. Business lobbies have successfully equated it in many people’s minds with just so much “red tape”. Government-imposed rules on how things are made, how services are delivered and what products have no place on the market at all are said to hamper business competitiveness. Precautionary measures aimed at safeguarding people’s health, or the health of fragile water bodies and ecosystems, are labelled unfair barriers to trade and investment — a claim made increasingly over the past quarter-century of corporate globalization.
At the same time, the need for stronger, and more precautionary, regulations has never been clearer. New science on the effect of chemicals on human and animal bodies strongly suggests we should be much more strictly controlling certain compounds in pesticides, cosmetics and other products — or taking those products off the market while we fully assess their risks. Our oceans are awash with plastic products nobody needs. And it’s now obvious that market-based carbon trading schemes cannot, on their own, lower greenhouse gas emissions enough for countries to meet their Paris Agreement targets. More forceful action will be needed on all these fronts — even if that action creates new trade barriers.
Since the 1995 founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO), environmental NGOs and public interest watchdogs have warned that overly restrictive language in the WTO agreements unfairly constrains the policy options available to governments for conserving animal and plant habitats, eliminating pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking toxic chemicals out of our consumer products, among other public interest priorities. While some progress has been made to remedy this imbalance in newer free trade agreements — through the inclusion of environmental, labour and sustainable development chapters, for example — big business has lobbied successfully for other, less-discussed provisions and chapters that institutionalize an ideology of deregulation.International regulatory cooperation-web300
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