The competitive quest of the Cartagena Protocol and the WTO for authority to regulate international trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) exemplifies a typical interaction between international institutions with diverging objectives. This article first develops a conceptual framework for the analysis of institutional interaction that emphasizes disaggregation of complex interaction situations into separate cases of clearly directed inter-institutional influence. These cases can follow different causal mechanisms. Second, applying this framework to the interaction between the Cartagena Protocol and the WTO reveals that existing commitments have driven parties toward a step-wise delimitation of the institutions' jurisdictions. Although the WTO acquired a firstmover advantage by structuring the regulatory field, the Cartagena Protocol showed surprising strength in exploiting the remaining room for maneuver. The structure of international governance thus steers institutions with differing objectives toward a jurisdictional balance that, while reflecting existing power relations, limits the potential for conflict and frames available policy choices.
Sebastian Oberthür is Academic Director of the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on issues related to international environmental governance. He is the co-editor, together with Thomas Gehring, of Institutional Interaction in Global Environmental Governance: Synergy and Conflict among International and EU Policies (2006).
Thomas Gehring is Professor for International Relations at the Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg. His research focuses on issues of global and European governance with a particular emphasis on international institutions. He is the co-editor, together with Sebastian Oberthür, of Institutional Interaction in Global Environmental Governance: Synergy and Conflict among International and EU Policies (2006).
This paper was prepared in the context of an initiative of the United Nations University. A somewhat modified version will appear in the forthcoming book volume Institutional Interplay: The Case of Biosafety, edited by W. Bradnee Chambers and Joy A. Kim (Tokyo: UN University). The conceptual framework presented has been developed in the framework of a European research project supported by the European Community (EVK-CT-2000-00079 INTERACTION). The results of this research project are presented in Oberthür and Gehring 2006b. We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers, Oran R. Young and Rhiannon Williams for providing comments on previous versions of this paper.