European trade policy and health

Trade policies are plans and actions that affect the international commercial exchange of goods or services and, in particular, the regulation of exchanges and multilateral agreements governing the application of tariffs or non-tariff barriers to trade. These policies have a profound impact on health.

Trade can affect health in various ways. The impact may be direct, as when a disease crosses a border together with a traded good, or when a disease outbreak causes disruptions in trade and traffic. Today, direct affect issue of great concern are the increasing international flows of health professionals, which exacerbate health worker shortages. The impact may also be indirect, for example, reducing trade tariffs may lead to lower prices for medical equipment and health-related products, such as drugs and blood products. On the other hand, fluctuations in international prices can affect the social determinants of health, as the recent role of trade in rising food and energy prices demonstrates. Equally important are issues of access, which are created by changing international rules concerning the patent protection of essential medicines, diagnostic devices and the transfer of technology. Conversely, national and international health standards and rules can have important implications for trade, such as the Codex Alimentarius standards, the International Health Regulations, and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Europe, therefore, needs a coherent strategy on trade and health in relation to trade within the EU and with other countries. Equally important is the need for efforts to better understand the impact of European trade policies on health.


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