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Gupta, Aarti. 2000. "Governing Biosafety in India: The Relevance of the Cartagena Protocol." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper 2000-24. Cambridge, MA: Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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The paper examines emerging global and national governance regimes for biosafety or the safe use of biotechnology in agriculture. The central concern is with examining the nature of the transnational-national interface in biosafety governance, i.e. the relationship between multilaterally negotiated rules and national-level biosafety decision-making. The paper examines the relevance of the recently concluded Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, dealing with the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for biosafety governance in India. In its call for “informed consent” prior to transfer of certain GMOs, the Cartagena Protocol validates the need for national-level choice in biosafety decision-making. However, a competing imperative is standardization of rules governing such choice, in order to enhance predictability and reduce national differences in biosafety decision-making. I argue here that these potentially contradictory goals are reconciled in the Cartagena Protocol through reliance upon a minimalist scope and ambiguous decision-criteria for informed consent. In light of this, it is argued that the Cartagena Protocol can be relevant to national biosafety governance in three ways: first, it legitimizes the existence of domestic biosafety regulations; second, notwithstanding a minimalist scope, it shifts the burden for information sharing to producers of GMOs; and third, given ambiguous decision-criteria, it leaves unchanged national discretion in GMO decision-making. The paper then evaluates the likely relevance of such impacts for national-level biosafety governance in India, through examining the processes of biosafety decision-making and information sharing currently in place. I conclude with observations about the transnational-national interface, and the role for multilateral rule-making, in facilitating governance of contested decision-areas such as biosafety.

Subsequent History

· Revised version published in Environment magazine
New Citation: Gupta, Aarti. 2000. "Governing Trade in Genetically Modified Organisms: The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety." Environment 42(4): 22-33.


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