Nanomaterials and Product Liability in International Trade

The project builds upon work in Phase II and focuses in particular on nanomaterials and product liability in international trade. Adding to existing literature, it aims at advancing a proposal as to whether or not there is a need to harmonise product liability rules and what the most appropriate approach might be.

Law lags behind new technologies. This has not changed since the invention of railways and applies to nanotechnology in the 21st century too. Yet, technologies differ. What makes products containing nanomaterials so particular is that each phase of their lifecycle – from production through transport and use to disposal – raises questions concerning positive and negative effects on welfare, health and the environment.


Moreover, the balance between the benefits and the risks may differ starkly during the various stages and therefore cannot be uniformly assessed and managed. In addition, as nanotechnology applies to manifold product sectors – from hardware through cosmetics to food packaging – one-size-fits-all regulatory design appears impossible. The problem of appropriate liability is therefore on the table.


The project is undertaken in cooperation with a specialist in tort law, assessing the question to what extent liability rules could and should be introduced in a future WTO or bilateral regime (e.g. a EU/US FTA) regulating nanotechnology.


Numerous authors have dealt with national and regional regimes of product liability, exploring amongst others questions of risk assessment, authorisation and labelling. What remains to be explored is whether there is a need for harmonisation and, if so, whether this should be dealt with within the multilateral system of the WTO. The project seeks to fill this specific gap by combining the expertise of scientists and lawyers, as well as insights from stakeholders.