Link between trade and public health examined in UN study

22 August 2002

A new United Nations report that examines the link between trade and public health suggests that policy makers can benefit from closer cooperation to ensure coherence between their different areas of responsibilities.

A new United Nations report that examines the link between trade and public health suggests that policy makers can benefit from closer cooperation to ensure coherence between their different areas of responsibilities.

The joint study by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) explains how WTO agreements relate to different aspects of health policies and is meant to give a better insight into key issues for those who develop, communicate or debate policy issues related to trade and health.

The 171-page report, entitled “WTO Agreements and Public Health,” covers eight specific health issues: infectious disease control, food safety, tobacco, environment, access to drugs, health services, food security and some emerging issues, such as biotechnology.

According to the study, countries have the right to take measures to restrict imports or exports of products when it is necessary to protect the health of humans, animals or plants. When liberalizing services, nations also retain the right to regulate in order to meet national policy objectives in areas such as health.

"WTO agreements are sensitive to health issues," said WTO Deputy Director-General Miguel Rodríguez Mendoza. "In fact, health concerns can take precedence over trade issues. If necessary, governments may put aside WTO commitments in order to protect human life. And, according to WTO jurisprudence, human health has been recognized as being 'important in the highest degree.'"

Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew Cassels, Director of WHO's Strategy Unit, said that good public policy must be based on sound evidence. "This study highlights areas where trade and health linkages deserve more careful analysis," he said. "It also highlights benefits that are possible when trade and health officials work closely together."

 

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