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WTO Agreements & Public Health

A Joint Study by the WHO and the WTO Secretariat

image of WTO Agreements & Public Health

This joint study by the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization Secretariat on the relationship between trade rules and public health. The study explains how WTO Agreements relate to different aspects of health policies. It is meant to give a better insight into key issues for those who develop, communicate or debate policy issues related to trade and health. The study covers areas such as drugs and intellectual property rights, food safety, tobacco and many other issues which have been subject to passionate debate. In this joint effort, the first of its kind, WHO and the WTO Secretariat endeavour to set out the facts.

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Specific health issues and WTO agreements

As noted in the preceding Chapter, several WTO agreements are relevant to health policy. Generally, the positive growth and income effects of more open and predictable trade regimes can provide the resources, as well as goods, services and information, for effective health systems. The WTO agreements explicitly allow governments, in pursuing national health and other policy objectives, to take measures to restrict trade in order to protect health. This is legitimate as a matter of principle. The emphasis in WTO rules is on how policies are pursued without questioning the underlying objective. For example, is a measure applied or enforced in a way that discriminates between trading partners or between imported products and products produced domestically? Are there ways of implementing policy that would be less restrictive on trade? Thus, it is the manner in which government pursue specific health policies in practice which might have trade-related implications, which are examined in this Chapter.

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