New study on trade rules and public health

September 11, 2002

Brussels, 10 Sep 2002

Greater co-operation between trade and health policy-makers is called for in a recent study jointly published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Trade Organization (WTO).

The report, 'Agreements and Public Health', published on 22 August outlines how WTO commitments impact policy-making on health issues such as food safety and intellectual property rights. WTO Director-General, Mike Moore, and his counterpart at the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, confirm that closer co-operation between health and trade policy-makers ensures greater coherence in these important areas. But how does this co-operation work in a world focused on economic growth and trade liberalisation? Miguel Rodríguez Mendoza, Deputy Director-General and coordinator at the WTO, is not convinced that trade will always dominate other issues such as health and sustainability. He believes WTO Agreements are sensitive to health issues and could even take precedence over trade issues where, for example, governments set aside a WTO commitment to protect human life. At the WTO, health is accredited the "highest degree" of importance, stresses Mr Mendoza.

Priorities and challenges

Countries have the right to restrict imports or exports when this is necessary to protect the health of humans, animals or plants, the study explains. Eight specific health issues in the study are discussed with an outline of the challenges and opportunities in implementing coherent trade and health policies in each of these areas. They were: infectious disease control, food safety, tobacco, the environment, access to drugs, health services, food security and biotechnology issues. "This study highlights areas where trade and health links deserve more careful analysis," explained Andrew Cassels, Director of WHO's Strategy Unit. It also highlights the benefits when trade and health officials collaborate more closely.


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