Debates about the construction of postnational law and global governance are usually dominated by a constitutionalist prism, by the hope to establish order through principled hierarchies on a domestic model. Yet what we see emerging is quite different: it is a pluralist order in which the different parts (of domestic, regional, and global origin) are not linked by overarching legal rules, but interact in a largely political fashion. This paper traces the structure of pluralism in a central area of global governance, the regime complex around trade, food safety and the environment, using the example of the dispute over trade with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It analyses the different institutions and their modes of interaction in this area, and it shows how their competing authority claims relate to broader claims by various collectives striving for control in the construction of global governance. The paper also seeks to shed light on the common charge that pluralist orders create instability. The analysis of the GMO dispute does not confirm this view; it reveals limits to what global risk regulation can achieve in the face of highly politicised conflict, but it also shows significant cooperation successes. Moreover, it suggests that the limits of cooperation are due less to institutional than to societal structures and that a pluralist order, by leaving issues of principle open, may provide a safety valve for issues of high salience, thus avoiding frictions a constitutionalist order might produce
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