FTAs’ Impact on Health, COVID-19 RecoveryBy Rodrigo Brugada | Mon, 04/26/2021 - 13:58
Mexico is a promising country in terms of economic development and trade. It is the world's 15th economy by GDP and a member of several economic cooperation organizations. It is also the country with the most free trade agreements (FTA) signed in the world. Having this in mind, and with COVID-19 vaccination efforts still ongoing, there is a continuous need to evaluate how these FTAs affect Mexico's health and how they will affect Mexico's economic and health recovery.
FTAs have promised to provide countries access to different markets, encourage global competition, reduce trade barriers and strengthen cooperation between nations concerning the exchange of goods and services. FTAs can also boost a country's GDP and increase business opportunities, as stated by Tetakawi. And while FTAs have been heralded as a powerful tool for economic development, this phenomenon is not necessarily replicated in healthcare and health outcomes.
The world, and more importantly Mexico, have seen a shift in trade dynamics, leaving behind multilateral agreements while embracing bilateral ones, as stated by CIGI. This shift has allowed countries to bypass the World Trade Organization's rules and state independent regulations for each agreement, as seen with NAFTA's Change to USMCA, reported the Atlantic Council. These new dynamics follow in the WTO's steps in allowing the signing parties to state the terms for trade expressly and partially influence a country's regulations that may impact it, as explored by the Belgian Platform for International Health.
Regarding health, FTAs have two primary impacts, one on healthcare provision and the other on social determinants of health (SDH). For the first part, FTAs bring an abundance of opportunities for increased access to new technology, medication and services. This increase undoubtedly brings new opportunities for health improvement. Still, these opportunities often come packaged with a limitation to people's ability to access them, as discussed by WHO and BMC's Globalization and Health. One example is the trade-related intellectual property rights behind COVID-19 vaccines, explored in the Journal of World Intellectual Property.
On the other hand, SDH are deeply impacted by FTAs. SDH are defined as the conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. FTAs enable signing countries, and most importantly, companies within those countries, to enact pressure onto foreign governments to ensure that policies are set to benefit their trade interests. This pressure towards policy changes has affected regulations in healthcare, agribusiness and labor, among others. This pressure in policy is discussed further in a two-part series in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (Part 1 & Part 2). An example of these regulatory and environmental changes comes in the dietary changes that sparked an obesity epidemic following the establishment of NAFTA, as reported by AlJazeera.
While it may appear on the surface that FTAs may act to the detriment of health, it is essential to note that they only serve as a tool with no coercive power on their own and they can be misused to put profits over people. As discussed by the American Public Health Association, these detriments can be tackled and will need to be carefully addressed to ensure COVID-19 recovery in the framework of the USMCA.