Inappropriate protection

Aus­trali­a’s offi­cial view of the appro­pri­ate lev­el of pro­tec­tion against import­ed plant or ani­mal pests and dis­eases can be char­ac­terised as: “com­plete pro­tec­tion what­ev­er the cost”. Our trad­ing part­ners, nat­u­ral­ly, find this hard to take; the Philip­pines raised its objec­tions[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] last month. Now the Euro­pean Union has for­mal­ly chal­lenged the pol­i­cy in the WTO. There are some inter­est­ing legal issues here but, for Aus­tralians, they pale in com­par­i­son to the eco­nom­ic ques­tion. Some of our rigid quar­an­tine mea­sures almost cer­tain­ly cost us more than they’re worth.  How much more? We don’t real­ly know! Our gov­ern­ment, which goes to extra­or­di­nar­i­ly picky lengths to assess the phys­i­cal evi­dence of risk, nev­er makes a “cost/benefit assess­ment(sum­ma­ry of Aus­tralian Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty Com­mis­sion report on cost/benefit assess­ment of quarantine)”: of its quar­an­tine risk man­age­ment mea­sures.

‘Com­plete’ pro­tec­tion means importers may have to wait years, or even decades, for a sci­en­tif­ic assess­ment of an import risk with­out being able to import in the interim.

The EU does not dis­pute Aus­trali­a’s right to set an appro­pri­ate lev­el of pro­tec­tion,” [the EU Com­mis­sion] said. “The EU does how­ev­er con­sid­er that Aus­tralia should not unfair­ly pro­tect its own mar­ket and pro­duc­ers by impos­ing quar­an­tine rules which block imports with­out sci­en­tif­ic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, often for many years,” the com­mis­sion added. The amount of trade lost due to the quar­an­tine mea­sures is dif­fi­cult to quan­ti­fy, the com­mis­sion said. But it not­ed that EU exports of fresh veg­eta­bles to Aus­tralia in 2002 were 8,000 tonnes, com­pared to 35,000 tonnes export­ed to Cana­da, a com­pa­ra­ble market. ”

What sort of risk man­age­ment pol­i­cy takes, as its point of depar­ture, a deci­sion that we’ll tol­er­ate near-zero risk what­ev­er the cost? Only an insane one. Post­script: Here’s anoth­er exam­ple of an insane assump­tion that risk pro­tec­tion is ‘cost free’: a glob­al ban on low-cost effec­tive insec­ti­cides that is killing peo­ple in Africa accord­ing to “Roger Bate(article on the Stock­holm Con­ven­tion at Techcentralstation)”:–100&CID=2051–082703M

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