In a timely article University of Otago public health researchers have proposed a framework for a radical reshaping of trade deal negotiations which puts health first before business interests.

Last week United States president Donald Trump, who has expressed interest in re-entering a Trans-Pacific trade deal, announced plans to make countries like New Zealand pay more for drugs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assured New Zealanders that Pharmac would be protected in future trade agreements.

This week Otago public health researcher Louise Delany and colleagues published an article in international journal BMC Public Health outlining a radical new framework for designing international trade and investment treaties.

Delany said it was essential that health, social and environmental objectives are recognised in such treaties as legitimate in their own right.

“Current international law puts health at the edge of the focus of nearly all treaties. In practice, health objectives have been treated as subordinate to the rights of investors and claims of economic imperatives,” she said.

“Trade and investment treaties should explicitly acknowledge that international law on health, environmental protection, and human rights may have priority over business interests. Treaty negotiation processes everywhere need to be much more transparent and democratic, as is required by the European Union and other nations.”

“Currently, corporations are privileged during negotiations. For example, they have access to draft texts, and disproportionate power in treaty implementation. Generally, treaties give enforceable rights to corporations, without requiring enforceable obligations from them.”

“In particular, there needs to be limitations on investor privileges, such as those relating to intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies,” said Delany.

The comprehensive approach includes significant changes to current models for trade and investment agreements, in particular:

  • health, social and environmental objectives would be recognised as legitimate in their own right and implemented accordingly
  • changes to dispute-resolution processes, both state-to-state and investor-state
  • greater deference to international legal frameworks for health, environmental protection, and human rights
  • greater coherence across the international law framework
  • limitations on investor privileges
  • enforceable corporate responsibilities for contributing to health, environmental, human rights and other common good objectives.

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