Food safety, agro industries, and China’s international trade: A standard-based approach

Louis Augustin-Jean & Lei Xie (2018)

China information, 32(3), pp. 400-422

Abstract. Economic sociology views markets as organizations characterized by power relations. In this framework, competition is not only for price or quality, but also for market structures, including norms and standards. Food standards, therefore, are not only public goods or tools to protect domestic markets, but they also aim to redesign the rules of the market and provide a competitive advantage to firms and national industries: they are part of the politicization of science. This article argues that China is participating in this form of competition. Since its WTO membership, it has gradually learnt the rules of globalization and has implemented many global standards to benefit from international trade. In recent years, however, it has assumed a more proactive role in reframing international standards of agro-food markets in general and food safety in particular, despite existing problems in its domestic food markets. Three case studies – milk imports; the diplomatic and trade competition for the implementation of a ractopamine (an additive in pig and cattle feed) standard; and the current negotiations for new international standards for cotton – show how China is using different strategies and methods to redesign the shape of international trade.

Keywords: food safety, regulatory standards, international trade, politicization of science, economics of convention, agro-food products

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