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Harmonising the Governance of Farming Risks: agricultural biosecurity and biotechnology in Australia

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International governmental bodies, such as the World Trade Organisation, are an increasingly prominent feature of global agri-food governance. They are instrumental not only in the dismantling of trade barriers but also in the promotion of a range of rules and standards. These rules are aimed broadly at harmonising national policies and practices so that differences are reduced and free trade is enhanced. Harmonisation is a crucial aspect of modern practices of governing, yet it has so far been given little critical attention in the agri-food and broader social science literature. Focusing on two contested policy fields with important consequences for Australian rural areas—quarantine regulations and the approval of genetically modified crops for commercial release—this paper examines how global forms of governing relating to risk assessment are constituted, rendered workable, debated and reconfigured at a national level as part of an 'assemblage' of trade liberalisation practices. We argue that the practice of harmonisation at a national scale is a complex process in which sovereignty is increasingly dispersed as national risk assessment processes are contested by corporations, trading partners and domestic political actors. The adoption of international rules may reinforce state sovereignty by legitimising desired policy changes, but it may also undermine domestic social, economic and environmental agendas.

Keywords: Assemblage; Australia; SPS Agreement; World Trade Organisation; biosecurity; biotechnology; governance; harmonisation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, 2: School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Charles Sturt University, 3: Research & Innovation Division, James Cook University,

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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