September 3, 2014
Guest blogpost by By Sascha Marschang, Policy Manager for Health Systems of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
It has already been one year since the European Union and the United States began negotiating the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP) and international agreement sets out to simplify and enlarge trade between the world’s two biggest economies.
Proponents of the free trade pact expect that the TTIP will generate new economic opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. Healthcare professionals however are worried about the impact that deregulation and liberalisation would have on healthcare and the health of European citizens. The major focus of the negotiations is the removal of ‘technical barriers to trade’ which affects the wide range of economic activity related to public health such as: food safety and labelling, environmental protection, alcohol, agriculture, access to medicines, alcohol and tobacco policies. The result of the EU-US trade negotiations could limit Member State’s abilities to regulate in these areas, preventing the development of policies aimed at protecting public health. Stronger intellectual property provisions may also have negative impacts on generic medicines coming to market and the ability of Member States to implement plain packaging of tobacco products.
For the reasons outlined above, many consumer and public health organisations are convinced that such a trade agreement could weaken existing protection in the EU, particularly since the Member States’ efforts to improve access to good nutrition and fight diet-related non-communicable diseases like obesity or introduce better nutrition labelling and food information to consumers. There is also the question of the impacts of regulatory convergence and reducing technical barriers to trade can negatively impact tobacco control and alcohol consumption measures. If included in the agreement, the investment state dispute settlement (ISDS) described in TTIP will give transnational corporations the right to take governments to court in international tribunals outside of their national systems if governments attempt to introduce initiatives that could potentially limit their profits or reverse liberalisation, for example. While the agreement itself will not create privatisation, there is no doubt that it is part of a paradigm shift towards further liberalisation of services in the EU. There is evidence of pressure from US congressmen on the US Trade Representative to open up new markets for their healthcare companies but we are concerned that introduction of private sector health service provision could lead to increased costs and potentially lower service quality. In Europe, public health services should be accessible to everyone, guarantee patient safety and provide high quality of care. Therefore we firmly believe that all healthcare services should be exempt from TTIP, regardless of their financing and delivery.
Answers to this question and others will be discussed during EPHA’s firth annual conference on 4-5 September 2014 by experts in this field, including Ignacio Garcia-Bercero (EU Chief Negotiator, DG Trade, EC) and Elena Bryan (Senior Trade Representative, US Mission to the EU).Blogactiv Team