USMCA (NAFTA 2.0): tightening the constraints on the right to regulate for public health

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In late 2018 the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed a new trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Although not yet ratified, the agreement is widely seen as indicative of how the US will engage in future international trade negotiations.

A new report in Globalization and Health found that  USMCA expands intellectual property rights and regulatory constraints that will lead to increased drug costs, particularly in Canada and Mexico. It opens up markets in both Canada and Mexico for US food exports without reducing the subsidies the US provides to its own producers and introduces a number of new regulatory reforms that weaken public health oversight of food safety. Its labor and environmental chapters contain a few improvements but overall do little to ensure either workers’ rights or environmental protection.

Rather than enhancing public health protection, the authors concluded,  the USMCA places new, extended, and enforceable obligations on public regulators that increase the power of corporate interests during the development of new regulations. It is not a health-enhancing template for future trade agreements that governments should emulate.

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