12 - Genetic engineering, free trade and human rights: global standards and local ethics  pp. 287-314

Genetic engineering, free trade and human rights: global standards and local ethics

By Roger Brownsword

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Introduction

The process of globalisation encourages an international commitment to the principle of free trade (in the sense of facilitating market access in relation to both goods and services) coupled with respect for human rights and human dignity. According to some, the international community is doing rather better at globalising free trade than it is at globalising justice and human rights – and, indeed, so long as international institutional missions are centred on free trade objectives, some would see a certain inevitability in this uneven process. Nevertheless, the dual commitment (to market access and to respect for human rights) sets the international global agenda – or, at any rate, two starred items on that agenda.

Free trade is neither an end in itself nor a strategy to be pursued at all costs. It is not the former because its appeal rests on the judgment that this is the economic default position most likely to promote human welfare; hence, if the default position does not function as intended – and this is a matter to be kept under constant review – then we need to find another way of promoting human welfare. Neither is free trade a strategy to be pursued at all costs, for measures designed to maximise aggregate human well-being must always be compatible with respect for human rights and human dignity.