Trade and Health


Volunteers needed

Maintaining a decent Trade and Health portal requires a network of volunteers to look after particular pages.  Please contact dlegge[at] if you would be able to help. 


Trade relations affect health in many ways. Trade is potentially a far more significant avenue for raising living standards and for economic development in developing countries than development assistance. However, the current regime of global economic regulation is severely tilted against the interests of developing countries. There is a massive flow of value each year from the South to the North.

The rules which govern world trade are formalised in the 23 treaties and agreements which are negotiated and implemented under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation and in a myriad of bilateral and plurilateral/regional trade agreements. Understanding the way unfair trade damages health requires an understanding of the formal rules of the WTO and how they are enforced.

WHO 2006 Resolution on Trade and Health

The WHO Secretariat has a unit working on trade and health (although it is likely to be closed as a consequence of the current financial and administrative crisis of WHO) .  The home page of this unit carries some very useful resources.  

In 2005 the WHO Secretariat submitted a report on International Trade and Health to the Executive Board which inter alia commented that:

Generally, ministries of health need the capability, in terms of expertise and access, to provide their colleagues in the trade and finance ministries with the best evidence on the potential impact of trade and trade agreements on health outcomes, so that ongoing multilateral, regional, or bilateral trade negotiations may be properly informed. This need creates demands on WHO’s Secretariat from Member States and from the international organizations involved in trade, including for guidance on international standards for health-related goods and services, advice on potential implications of trade rules from a public-health perspective, provision of tools and methodologies to assess the possible implications of trade and trade agreements on public health, and information on best practices in trade negotiations that might affect health.

In 2006 the World Health Assembly adopted an important resolution on trade and health (go to page 37) which places particular responsibilities on ministries of health to work with ministries of trade. However, in many cases MOHs do not have the capacity nor the inclination to engage trade negotiators on these issues.  

Accessing the complexities of trade and health

 The fields of trade and of health are both huge and the overlaps multiply the complexity.  It is hard to get to grips with any one area because there are so many different angles on any particular issue.  Building a powerful, well informed civil society watch over the trade and health field can only be done through a network of organisations and individuals working on specialist areas but linking together.  The purpose of this website is to help to knit such a network together. 

There are many different analytic frameworks for reducing this field to manageable (but always inter-related) chunks:

  • different agreements (eg TRIPS, NAFTA, EPA, TPPA, etc)
  • different health impacts: economic development, price of medicines, policy space, small farmers' livelihoods, food environments, labour rights, etc;
  • different domains of trade regulation (separate chapters or specialised agreements): dealing with intellectual property, trade in goods, trade in services, investor protection, dispute settlement, etc; 
  • different countries and regions (impacts in Europe, Japan and the US differ from impacts in Latin America, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa);
  • different disciplinary analyses (economists, lawyers, international relations specialists, trade negotiators, epidemiologists, etc). 

Key General Resources