Increasingly corporations and their allies are using trade agreements as vehicles for achieving policy changes that even the most business-friendly legislatures would have trouble passing. A case in the point is the new Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated in Chicago with the goal of completing an agreement in time for an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Meeting in Honolulu this November. The United States’ TPP partners are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These negotiations include agreements around tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical trade that could have a deep influence on public health. Public health advocates fear that the TPP might ask signatory nations to weaken existing public health protections.
The Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH), an organization that brings a public health voice to the debate on trade and sustainable development, has worked to mobilize various constituencies to speak out publicly against U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s proposals to increase the prices of medicines and to make tobacco products cheaper and easier to buy. They also call for greater public health representation and transparency in trade policy.
Several groups have joined this effort. For example, Dr. James Madara wrote to Kirk on behalf of the American Medical Association earlier this month, “The AMA strongly urges you to ensure that tobacco products and alcoholic beverages are excluded from all provisions of the TPP and any other trade agreements… Our request is consistent with longstanding AMA policy that ‘international trade agreements recognize that health and public health concerns take priority over commercial interest, and that trade negotiations be conducted in a transparent manner and with full attention to health concerns and participation by the public health community.’”
One issue of concern is tobacco giant Phillip Morris International’s (PMI) effort to use trade provisions to claim that graphic warning labels on cigarette packages (as mandated by several nations) violate trade agreements that protect the company’s trademark rights and related intellectual property rights. According to CPATH, the TPP could strengthen PMI’s hand. The tobacco and drug industries’ representatives are members of the influential and confidential trade advisory committees that guide the Trade Representative. Another concern is that trade agreements will increase the price of prescription drugs, as happened with the Central America Free Trade Agreement.
Some elected officials have also joined the fight against trade agreements that value business interests over health. Congressmen John Lewis, Pete Stark, Charles Rangel, Earl Blumenthal and Lloyd Doggett recently wrote Kirk noting that they expected an “improved public health standard” in the final TPP agreement.
As CPATH observed, “It’s time to put an end to trade agreements that make life-saving medicines too expensive, and deadly tobacco products too cheap. We call for a change of course to a new high performance trade policy that improves and protects health.”
For more on the TPP see CPATH’s slide show.
1. U.S. Mission via Flickr.