The EU’s growing pains in negotiating international food standards

Date01 September 2013
Published date01 September 2013
International Relations
27(3) 292 –307
© The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0047117813497303
The EU’s growing pains in
negotiating international
food standards
Louise van Schaik
Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
This article relates the effectiveness of the European Union’s (EU) effectiveness to its international
actorness in negotiations on international food standards taking place in the Codex Alimentarius
Commission (CAC). Actorness is taken to result from EU competence, preference homogeneity
and processes of socialisation among EU Member State representatives. In the 2009 negotiations
on growth promoters for livestock, whose use the EU opposes, the Commission took the lead.
It was trusted and supported by the EU Member States, but its dominant role resulted in them
being rather passive. As a result, the EU’s potential to negotiate effectively in the CAC was not
used in its full potential.
Codex Alimentarius, EU food policy, EU international actorness, EU socialisation, food
standards, negotiating performance, preference homogeneity
International food standards decided upon in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (here-
after CAC) have a considerable influence on the way our food is produced, processed
and traded across the globe. The Codex Alimentarius has almost worldwide coverage
with 181 Member States and one Member Organisation, the European Union (EU). The
CAC meets every year at the premises of one of its parent organisations, the Food and
Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Corresponding author:
Louise van Schaik, Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, PO Box 93080, 2509 AB The Hague, the
497303IRE27310.1177/0047117813497303International Relationsvan Schaik
van Schaik 293
Adoption of Codex standards usually is the result of long-standing deliberations that
concentrate on scientific evidence regarding food and consumer safety. The outcome
matters, since Codex standards are an important reference point for World Trade
Organization (WTO) dispute settlement on food safety issues. They, thus, indirectly
influence the borderline between, on the one hand, justified food safety protection meas-
ures and, on the other hand, unjustified barriers to trade. Codex standards are specifically
important to the EU because it is the largest trading power in the world and its citizens
are keen on eating safe food. The CAC is moreover the latest international organisation
of which the EU obtained Membership in 2003.
As a result of food policy being almost entirely harmonised by EU legislation, the EU
operates through a rather centralised model of external policy-making on most issues
discussed at the CAC, whereby the European Commission (EC) is in the driving seat
regarding the development and external representation of EU positions. In the light of
this special issue, the case could therefore be considered a most likely case for a high
degree of EU actorness and effectiveness when assuming that more centralisation is
positively contributing to these factors.
This article will question this premise and analyses the EU’s international actorness
and effectiveness in Codex negotiations by making a detailed analysis of the negotiations
on a specific standard on the growth promoter ractopamine in the 2009 CAC. It is salient,
since the EU does not allow the use of growth promoters to increase livestock production
but has difficulties to justify its stance on the basis of scientific evidence. It lost the Beef
Hormones case inter alia because of the WTO dispute settlement body referring to hor-
mone standards agreed upon within the Codex Alimentarius, and as a result of this, the
EU was confronted with trade retaliation measures from the United States and Canada.
This article proceeds as follows. First, it briefly discusses how we could analyse the
relationship between EU actorness and its effectiveness in international negotiations. It
elaborates on the choice to focus at competence, preference homogeneity, and EU social-
isation in order to analyse EU actorness, which is subsequently analysed for the 2009
Codex negotiations on growth promoters. This analysis is based on document study,
interviews with experts involved in the negotiations and participatory observation of the
author during the 2009 CAC.1 The concluding section will discuss how EU actorness has
influenced its effectiveness and to what extent the negotiating environment influenced
this relationship.
EU actorness and effectiveness in international
EU actorness is generally understood as the ‘EU’s ability to function actively and delib-
erately in relation to other actors in the international system’.2 Actorness is often anal-
ysed largely on the basis of EU internal criteria,3 which will also be the focus here, even
though the external context is assumed to influence these internal criteria. For analytical
purposes, actorness is separated from EU effectiveness, since these two are not automati-
cally two sides of the same coin as is often implied.4 Actorness may influence the EU’s
capacity to negotiate and thereby its bargaining power.5 In that way, it may contribute to

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