As the United States revisits its trade policies with China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union nations, and other countries, it is easy to get lost in the complex national and global business, political and social issues at play. For public health researchers and scholars, the new debates on trade provide an opportunity to deepen public understanding of the health and social consequences of various trade regimes.
In a recent articlein Global Social Policy, Ashley Schram examines the impact of trade on non-communicable diseases:
Trade and investment policy has the capacity to support or undermine global action on rising noncommunicable disease (NCD) rates. This article will employ a political science approach to explore how ideology, institutions and interests within the trade and investment policy space may constrain policy recommendations made in the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan (GAP) on NCDs. Specifically, it details how neoliberal ideology may constrain public health values, how the new constitutionalism may constrain public health legitimacy and how disparities in money, power and resources between elite economic actors and public policy actors may constrain the capacity of public health to influence trade and investment agreement negotiations. The implications of these constraints on the implementation of the GAP-NCDs are discussed.
The Schram article is contained in a special issueof Global Social Policyon trade and health for which some articlesare available open access.
For other perspectives on trade and health, visitthe link to the Livestream and resources presented at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute’s recent forum on Food, Trade, & Health: What Are the Connections?The speakers are: Alyshia Galvez, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at Lehman College and the former director of the Jaime Lucero Institute of Mexican Studies at City University of New York. She is author of the forthcoming book, Eating NAFTA: Trade and Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico and David Sanders,founder and Emeritus Professor of the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. He is also a founder of the People’s Health Movement, a global movement that promotes health justice. For decades, he has studied the health consequences of South Africa’s changing food system.
Source: OECD Obesity Update 2017
Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, reports the New York Times, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.
The Mexican government support for such restrictions “is one of the most invasive forms of industrial interference we have seen,” Alejandro Calvillo, the founder of El Poder del Consumidor, or Consumer Power, a health advocacy group in Mexico told the New York Times. Heading off pressure for more explicit warnings through the NAFTA negotiation is especially appealing to the food and beverage industry, writes the Times, because it could help limit domestic regulation in the United States as well as avert a broad global move to adopt mandatory health-labeling standards. “It kind of kills a law before it can be written,” said Lora Verheecke, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, a group that tracks lobbying efforts. “And once you put it in one trade agreement, it can become the precedent for all future deals with future countries.”
Sustain, an alliance of advocates in the United Kingdom working for better food and agriculture policies and practices, summarizes some of the ‘”barriers to trade” that a 2017 report by the US Office of the Trade Representative identified:
- Additional nutritional labelling such as traffic light labels in the UK and Ireland. The US is arguing that these initiatives must remain voluntary.
- South Africa’s plans to introduce a sugary drinks tax in 2016. The US raised concerns that the tax would effectively discriminate against sugary drinks. The move jeopardizes $5m of US sugary beverage exports
- Proposals by six Gulf states to regulate energy drinks, including introducing labelling statements about recommended consumption. (One estimate puts this market at $2bn.)
- Efforts by Chile to clearly label products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and restrict junk food marketing on packaging to children. The US has referred the Chileans to the WTO saying delays and repackaging has cost the US firms ‘millions of dollars’ in lost sales
- A food act in Peru introducing mandatory front of pack warnings for pre-packaged foods high in sugar, salt and fat and restrictions on junk food advertising to children and young people
- Indonesia’s attempts to introduce nutritional labelling for pre-packaged and fast food along with and regulations to limit advertising and health claims aimed at children.
On May 20, the Jaime Lucero Institute on Mexican Studies at CUNY and the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute presented a workshop on free trade, health and nutrition in Mexico. The session was part of the Sobremesa, a festival on the role of food in Mexican communities in the United States and Mexico. The first presentation by Nicholas Freudenberg from City University of New York School of Public Health examined some of the ways that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contributed to diet-related diseases in Mexico. View the presentation here.
Continue reading Is free trade making us sick?