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The limits of regulatory convergence: globalization and GMO politics in the south


Is globalization promoting regulatory convergence in agricultural biotechnology policies in the South? This article examines the nature and limits of regulatory convergence in the field of agri-biotechnology and investigates the effects that international forces have on biotechnology and biosafety policies in developing countries. Based on detailed case studies of Mexico, China and South Africa this article shows that these three leading biotechnology countries in the South are exposed to powerful international influences but are responding to the regulatory challenges of genetically modified organisms (GMO) adoption in distinctive ways. The existing regulatory polarization between US and EU biotechnology approaches has not forced a convergence around either of these two international models. GMO policies in the South do not simply follow the binary logic of the US–EU regulatory conflict. Instead, they integrate elements from both regulatory approaches and are steering a course that suggests substantial regulatory diversity in the South. The globalization of biotechnology thus goes hand in hand with regulatory diversity in the developing world. Furthermore, regulatory polarization between the EU and US has helped to open up political space in key developing countries.

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  1. Although Mexico is a member of the OECD, in areas of relevance to agricultural biotechnology it exhibits key characteristics of a developing country: a relatively large proportion of the population is engaged in agriculture, particularly subsistence farming; and the country is a centre of origin and diversity of key crops subject to genetic engineering, such as maize.

  2. Interviews with regulators and stakeholders were conducted in China in August 2004, in Mexico in June 2004 and in South Africa in May 2005. In order to respect interviewees’ requests for anonymity, only their institutional affiliation is revealed here.

  3. See, e.g. the detailed objections by the African Center for Biosafety at



African Center for Biosafety (South Africa)


Comisión Intersecretarial de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genéticamente Modificados—Inter-Sectoral Commission on Biosafety and Genetically Modified Organisms, Mexico


Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety


Department of Trade and Industry (South Africa)


European Union


General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade


Genetically modified


Genetically modified organism


North American Free Trade Agreement


Ministry of Agriculture (China)


Ministry of Science of Technology (China)


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development


State Environmental Protection Agency (China)


WTO Agreement on Applications of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures


United States


World Trade Organization


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Falkner, R., Gupta, A. The limits of regulatory convergence: globalization and GMO politics in the south. Int Environ Agreements 9, 113–133 (2009).

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  • Globalization
  • Regulatory convergence
  • Agricultural biotechnology
  • Biosafety
  • Developing countries