health and trade at the World Social Forum 9-14 August Montreal, Canada
The People’s Health Movement and Health and Trade Network hosted three panels on Trade and Health at the World Social Forum 2016 in Montreal, Canada. The panels explored the ways that trade agreements impact on health, and aimed to embolden advocates with the tools to advocate for alternatives to the current paradigm of unhealthy trade agreements and create avenues for action.
Session 1: Are current trade agreements bad for our health?
Trade agreements have been a huge detriment to the health of people across the globe for decades. Yet our governments continue to propose and agree to them at the expense of people’s health and lives.
The aim of this session is to demonstrate the impacts of trade agreements that have been harmful to people’s health, including social determinants of health--job losses, environmental harm, increase in unhealthy foods availability, and threats to alcohol and tobacco policy and universal access to healthcare.
This session outlined several of the trade agreements that are currently being negotiated by governments and the potential negative health consequences they bring.
Prof. Ron Labonte, University of Ottawa: A Health Impact Assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement:
Few Gains, Many Risks
Emma Woodford, Health and Trade Network: From BITS to TTIP EU Trade Policy and Health
Jason Nickerson, Médecins Sans Frontières Canada: Trade and Access to Medicines
Robert Pezzolesi, US Alcohol Policy Alliance: Alcohol Control, the Hidden Public Health Threat
Belinda Townsend, People’s Health Movement Australia: Challenging the Free Trade Regime
Panel 2: Investor-State Dispute Settlement: a public health threat that spans sectors
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is a mechanism in many trade agreements that gives private companies the right to bring a proceeding against a foreign government to settle a dispute. These disputes are not carried out through national courts but in investment tribunals determined by the trade agreement. ISDS cases arise when a company alleges that a State’s law, policies, or regulations, for example, threaten their access to the market or their profits. Due to ISDS settlements and even threats of an ISDS case being brought, many countries have repealed laws or implement less restrictive policies in order to meet a private company’s demands.
During this session participants were familiarised with ISDS, its intended purpose, and its relevance to the current global trade regime, politics, and democracy. After learning
about how ISDS works, participants took part in a role play where the US and EU negotiators for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) fielded questions from stakeholder groups. At the end of the session, Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance warned of new corporate threats to democracy through the World Economic Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative, which will ultimately give corporations more power through a strengthened ISDS process.
David Schneidermann, University of Toronto: How to Dissect an Investment Chapter
Dr. Elizabeth Wiley, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Emma Woodford, Health and Trade Network
Kevin Zeese, Public Citizen
Panel 3: What would a healthy trade agreement look like?
The fundamentals of trade should be based on good health, human rights and justice and environmental protection.
“Nothing less than a trade revolution will actually achieve our aims, rather than a mere tweaking of current system.”
“Trade agreements should incur a race to the top, not to the bottom!”
Under the overarching question of whether free trade could ever be democratic and healthy, the final session reviewed the findings of the first two sessions and launched discussions on what healthy trade agreements could actually look like. Key questions arose such as types of provisions should be drafted or omitted that would protect our right to health? How should trade agreements be negotiated and do we even need international trade?
Inevitably, the resulting visions for trade are far from the principles of the free market economy and closer to a commons approach to trade and protection of our well-being.
The linked document VISIONS FOR HEALTHY TRADE contains more details of the discussions that are highlighted here: