This paper analyzes how the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a global regime governing trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is influencing agricultural biotechnology policy choices in developing countries/emerging economies. Through empirical analysis of Mexico, China and South Africa, we examine whether discursive and/or institutional change has followed the negotiation and implementation of the Cartagena Protocol in these countries. We find that, although trade and market competitiveness concerns are driving biotechnology policy choices in all three cases, a precautionary biosafety discourse has gained greater legitimacy as a result of the Cartagena Protocol, empowering those domestically who voice such concerns. Related to that, debates and/or decisionmaking processes in this controversial area have become more inclusive in all three countries—an important influence of the Cartagena Protocol.We also find persisting regulatory diversity rather than harmonization of biosafety regulatory frameworks in our three countries, with international trade linkages and domestic politics playing an important mediating role in determining Protocol influence.

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

Aarti Gupta is Assistant Professor of Global Environmental Politics with the Environmental Policy Group of Wageningen University, the Netherlands. She is also a Research Fellow of the Institutional Dimensions of Global Environ mental Change Project (IDGEC) of the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) and an associate faculty member of the Global Governance Project ( Her research interests are in global risk governance and trade-environment linkages.

Robert Falkner is Lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics. He is editor of The International Politics of Genetically Modified Food: Diplomacy, Trade and Law (2006) and serves as Associate Editor of the European Journal of International Relations. His research interests are in international political economy and global environmental politics. During the academic year 2006–07, he will be a Visiting Scholar at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University.

This study has been supported by a Research and Writing Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The authors thank interviewees in Mexico and South Africa (visited by Aarti Gupta) and China (visited by Robert Falkner) for the time taken to address our queries. In particular, Aarti Gupta thanks Amanda Galvez, Michelle Chauvet and Yolanda Massieu in Mexico, and Rosemary Wolsen and Mariam Mayet in South Africa. Robert Falkner acknowledges institutional assistance from Fudan University in Shanghai and Renmin University in Beijing and thanks Xu Ang, Chris Hughes, Brendan Smith and Chen Zhimin. We also thank participants in the 2004 CAT & E conference in Amsterdam and the 2005 WISC conference in Istanbul, as well as Frank Biermann, Kees Jansen and four anonymous reviewers for useful comments and feedback. We remain responsible for all errors.