How will a trade agreement – the TPP — impact global health?

Guest post by Mary Anne Mercer, Senior MCH Advisor for Health Alliance International and the IH Section’s liaison with the Trade and Health Forum. Mary Anne spoke at a recent activist rally in Seattle on January 31st about public health concerns related to the TPP.

Only six months ago, when the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was brought up in discussions, even well-informed activists generally gave blank stares.  TP what?  But in recent weeks it’s been the subject of increasing news coverage, along with exposure to the so-called fast track authority bill that would grant President Obama authority to sign the agreement without prior Congressional review.  Although extensive negotiations on the TPP have been going on in secret over the past several years, as information about the TPP becomes better known, activist groups around the world have organized to oppose it. Just what is the TPP, and why do we care about it?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “trade” deal (but encompassing many other areas of corporate rights) among 12 countries of the Pacific Rim, including the United States. Official discussions are held behind closed doors without public information or input, and without input from our elected representatives in Congress, so little is known about the specific terms of the agreement.  However, WikiLeaks has published two chapters over the past few months detailing regulations concerning intellectual property and the environment. We have good reason to expect that the TPP will ratchet up terms that are prominent in existing trade agreements that have been signed between individual countries. So although only the negotiating committees, which include about 600 diplomats and corporate representatives, know the exact terms of the deal, we have substantial cause for concern.

National and international groups concerned about global health have voiced opposition to many terms of the agreement, believing that they would affect the health and quality of life of people around the world if enacted.  Some of the main health-related concerns about the TPP include:

  • Restrictions on individual countries’ abilities to pass and enforce laws protecting public health. Through a mechanism known as Investor-State Dispute resolution, corporations would be entitled to sue sovereign governments for passing laws that ‘restrict trade’ – even public health measures such as restricting tobacco advertising on cigarette packaging, which the Australian and other governments are now facing.
  • Intellectual property laws that would set up barriers to accessing generic medicines and other health commodities (including AIDS drugs), thus dramatically increasing their costs. By extending the already lengthy duration of patents and other corporate protections, Big Pharma will have an even stronger hold on the economic gains to be made from health problems around the world.
  • Detrimental effects on equity, including the distribution of income and other resources.  There is good evidence 20 years after NAFTA that poverty and inequality have increased in Mexico and wages in the US have stagnated.  The promises of NAFTA have not been kept.

But the TPP is far from a done deal.  Many progressive groups, including a number of labor, environmental and community organizations, as well as APHA’s Trade and Health Forum, are working to oppose the TPP and the Fast Track bill.

Sen. Harry Reid, Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, recently indicated that he is not interested in having the Senate vote on legislation granting Fast Track Authority this year. There is no question that Reid’s decision is a result of mobilization of voters across the country. We need to continue to educate and inform as many people as possible about the content of the TPP and the negative impact it would have on jobs, the environment, and on public health in the US and globally.

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