Global trade is worth $10 million a minute – enough to bring jobs and livelihoods to communities all over the developing world. But from the cost of water to the availability of life-saving drugs, the rules of trade can also have devastating consequences on health.
The effect of trade on health
Trade rules affect the price and availability of food, the jobs people can get and the availability and cost of medicines. These in turn directly affect the health of individuals, their caring responsibilities and their chances of education.
Trade rules also affect the tax revenue available to governments to fund public services including health.
The power of business
Wealthy countries argue that moving towards free trade – meaning less government intervention – is the best route out of poverty. But despite the fine words of world leaders about trade liberalisation, many trade agreements actually put the needs of big business above those of the poorest communities.
If developing countries stick together they can sometimes resist unfair deals, but with hugely varying economic strengths and interests, they are often picked off in smaller groups. This can lead to unfair trade agreements that undermine efforts to improve health and tackle poverty.
Intellectual property is one area where wealthy countries don’t push for free trade, but instead advocate government intervention. Why? Because these rules benefit their companies and economies. Powerful pharmaceutical companies, for example, want stronger patent protection for their drugs around the world, keeping prices high, to fund research and boost profits. But high prices mean developing country governments and health partners can afford fewer drugs and the poor may not be able to afford them at all.
There are also new pressures on developing countries to open up public services such as healthcare, water and sanitation, and education to free market forces, which also threatens to undermine public health.
Health Poverty Action says:
Trade can boost economies and fund health improvements, but developing countries must be allowed to decide their own economic policies, accountable to their own citizens, not the governments of wealthier, more powerful countries. These decisions must be driven by the impact they will have on their citizens, including their right to health, and not by the aggressive corporate interests through trade negotiations.