This paper compares the way in which two leading developing countries in the global debate on biotechnology have sought to translate policy commitments contained in international agreements on trade and biosafety into workable national policy. It is a complex story of selective interpretation, conflict over priorities and politicking at the highest levels of government. It connects the micro-politics of inter-bureaucratic turf-wars with the diplomacy of inter-state negotiations and coalition-building. At the same time, the role of business and civil society actors, media and scientific communities, will also be shown to be key.
It is argued that global commitments take on a fundamentally different shape once they have been refracted through domestic political processes. The analysis shows that competing policy networks that cut across the state and form part of global alliances seek to interpret international legal obligations in ways which help to consolidate their position within the bureaucracy. Working with allies in industry or among civil society groups, different government departments seek to domesticate loosely worded and often ambiguous obligations contained in trade and environmental agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol, in ways which advance their political goals. This political manoeuvring takes on global dimensions when alliances are formed with international scientific, industry or activist communities to bolster positions adopted domestically. Likewise, domestic politics get played out in global fora as these agreements are being negotiated, where countries such as India and China have to adapt negotiating positions to a shifting sense of how the national interest is best served and navigating a course which is likely to be acceptable to key domestic constituencies when the agreement comes to be implemented. Each country also has a sufficiently clearly defined interest in biotechnology that international processes are regarded as an opportunity to “internationalise” domestic policy preferences and secure scope for discretion in national policy-making.
IDS Working Paper 206, Biotechnology Policy Series 12. Brighton, UK: IDS. ISBN 1 85864 521 2, 53 pp.