This article compares the way in which China and India, two leading developing countries in the global debate on biotechnology, have sought to translate policy commitments contained in international agreements on trade and biosafety into workable national policy. It is a complex story of selective interpretation, conflict over priorities and politicking at the highest levels of government. It connects the micro-politics of inter-bureaucratic turf wars with the diplomacy of inter-state negotiations and coalition building. Empirically, the article provides the first systematic comparison of patterns of implementation in the two countries based on extensive fieldwork, contributing to debates about biotechnology regulation and the extent to which developing countries can exercise policy autonomy in a global environment of high commercial interest and aggressive political lobbying. Conceptually, the article develops thinking about the interaction and non-linear relationship between “domestic” and “international” policy-making arenas and does so in a way which is sensitive to the key role of non-state actors in this field.