Simanaitis Says

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IT HAS been said that Britain and the United States are two nations separated by a common language. I’ve recently learned another significant difference, this one in the principles of product safety. This insight came to me in reading “How Not to Do Trade Deals,” by Swati Dhingra and Nikhil Datta, in the September 21, 2017, issue of the London Review of Books.

Dhingra is an assistant professor of economics at the London School of Economics; Datta is working on a Ph.D at University College London. Their LRB article discusses Brexit and its implications on that country’s international trade. Britain expects a loss of trade with the EU, and the authors ask whether increased trade with the U.S. might plug the hole.

Harmonization of technical standards and regulations would encourage this increased UK/U.S. trade. However, this is where matters get complicated because of the two countries’ differing views on achieving product safety.

As noted in the LRB article, the UK principle is precautionary: “… in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof of the safety of a new product is on the company wanting to introduce it.”

The UK inherits this precautionary approach from EU practice. And, indeed, it’s not without controversy at the moment, being perceived by some Brits as a remnant of Brussels meddling.

By contrast, Dhingra and Datta write, “U.S. law, however, asks government agencies to show that a product is unsafe, rather than requiring companies to prove that it is safe before it can enter the market.”

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Dhingra and Datta conclude, “It’s highly unlikely that the UK could get the U.S. to switch to a precautionary policy, and so a new trade deal that reduces non-tariff barriers would therefore mean abandoning that principle and following the U.S. approach.”

More’s the pity, I say.

Right now, we have federal agencies in a huge pendulum swing that all but frees them of responsibility in deeming a product or policy unsafe. Company-government interactions today in the U.S. appear to be done on the sly. What’s more, several federal agency heads have professed agenda that are tantamount to disabling the agencies they were appointed to lead.

What if the coal industry had the burden of proof that dumping its mine tailings in streams is a safe practice?

What’s more, the UK concept of “in the absence of scientific consensus” becomes a laughing matter here in an administration littered with scientific no-nothings who, seemingly, find pride in being so.

Regardless of my views on Brexit, these days I’m not sure I’d wish U.S. product safety practices on the UK. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

4 comments on “IS IT SAFE OR UNSAFE? WHO SAYS?

  1. Michael Rubin
    November 11, 2017

    You might say you wouldn’t wish “current U.S. product safety practices” on the UK One hopes for a return to a fact and truth based system in the future, the sooner the better.

  2. Bill rabel
    November 13, 2017

    “The great thing about science is that it’s true, whether you believe it or not.”
    – Neil Degrasse Tyson

    • simanaitissays
      November 13, 2017

      Agreed. I also like Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

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