Thursday, February 23, 2012

Harmonization or New World Order?

I am a big proponent of the harmonization of international standards. This is mainly because I am cheap and believe in efficient, practical solutions to problems. I have always thought that the U.S., Canada, and the EU, for example, could merge their drug approval processes making for a one-stop shop. Once approved by this international body, the drug would be approved for sale in all three jurisdictions. I realize that is far easier said than done. The problem is that every country wants to be able to protect the health and safety of its citizens. And, at a very detailed level, the different organizations may have different approaches. Those details can become stumbling blocks and eventually stymie the whole thing. But, it can be done.

Another objection to this is that the U.S. will be giving up sovereignty and allowing "foreign bureaucrats" to make decisions about the medicines (or foods, or whatever) Americans can use. This, to me, is a red herring. As long as the United States retains a way out of the pact and there is adequate opportunity for judicial or other independent review, I don't think there is much of a sovereignty issue. Even if there is, we trade sovereignty for other benefits all the time. If the decision is reversible and we get a benefit, that is OK with me.

I am thinking about this because of this news item that the U.S. and EU have agreed to accept each other's certifications that products are "organic." This opens the way for companies on either side of the Atlantic to market their products as organic without having to go through re-certification and labeling on the opposite side. According to the report:

“This agreement comes with a double added value. On the one hand, organic farmers and food producers will benefit from easier access, with less bureaucracy and less costs, to both the U.S. and the EU markets, strengthening the competitiveness of this sector. In addition, it improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers' confidence and recognition of our organic food and products,” stated the EU Commissioner responsible for agriculture and rural development, Dacian Cioloş. "This partnership marks an important step, taking EU-U.S. agricultural trade relations to a new level of cooperation"

Of course, this is not the merging of two independent programs. Rather, it is just mutual recognition. Still, it strikes me as a good example of a long term strategy to harmonize standards.

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