While many Croakey readers will be focused on the health implications of the Federal Budget this Tuesday, an event in Adelaide will put a health-in-all policies spotlight on a much bigger event for the world’s health: the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which the Australian Government signed in February.
The TPP, which has been described as the most advanced trade and investment agreement so far negotiated – a ‘mega-treaty’ involving 12 countries, will be critically examined on Tuesday evening during a seminar at the Flinders University’s Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity.
Professor Ron Labonté, a Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Health Equity at the University of Ottawa, will discuss whether the TPP is a “public health washout”, while Dr Deborah Gleeson, a Lecturer in Public Health at La Trobe University, will examine how the agreement is likely to affect the health of Australians.
Deborah Gleeson is also co-author of a number of recent publications adding to public health concerns surrounding the agreement, including:
• Policy coherence, health and the sustainable development goals: a health impact assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership;
Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised about the agreement’s likely impacts on the ability of nations to implement effective tobacco control policies, as outlined in the article below.
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Katie Hirono and Deborah Gleeson write:
After years of negotiation and public controversy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was signed in February of this year. While the public health implications of this massive trade agreement have been largely unconsidered in official negotiations, there have been unexpected wins, and challenges, in the final agreement.
The final agreement included a tobacco ‘carve-out’ from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. ISDS allows foreign companies to sue a government when they perceive that their rights as an investor have been violated, and has been a controversial aspect of the agreement.
The carve-out will prevent future tobacco control policies from being challenged using ISDS, in the manner in which Philip Morris Asia challenged Australia’s tobacco plain packaging laws.
There has been on-going concern about the potential risks of including an ISDS mechanism in the TPP, and the inclusion of the carve-out was an unexpected win for the tobacco control field.
We recently considered what the potential strengths and limitations of the carve-out could be in a brief report in Public Health Research & Practice. We found that failure to include a comprehensive carve-out for tobacco – one that would exclude any part of the TPP from affecting tobacco policy, not just ISDS – is a shortcoming.
Without a comprehensive carve-out, there is the risk that other parts of the TPP can limit Australia’s ability to protect people from the harm of smoking.
Limitations of the carve-out
Loose language in the carve-out leaves opportunities for the tobacco industry to exert influence. The carve-out is in fact optional, meaning countries can elect to deny the use of ISDS to challenge their tobacco policies. In countries where the tobacco industry has a strong influence, they may exert pressure on governments not to use the carve-out.
In the US there has already been push back on the carve-out by policymakers from states where there is a large tobacco-growing industry.
What’s more, the carve-out only applies to ISDS, not the state-to-state dispute settlement which allows countries to challenge each other over similar investor disputes. Currently Australia is facing disputes by Honduras, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia over tobacco plain packaging, using the state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organization.
Similarly the carve-out only applies to “manufactured tobacco products (including products made or derived from tobacco)”. It is unclear what the implication of this may be for future regulation of e-cigarettes, which do not always contain nicotine.
Other Risks in the TPP
Other parts of the TPP agreement may also limit the ability of Australia to implement policies in accordance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Closer scrutiny of the final text, which could be done through a health impact assessment, is required to fully understand the potential effects on tobacco control.
What’s more, the existing exclusion only applies to tobacco, meaning other public health and environmental policies are still vulnerable to challenge using ISDS. A health impact assessment based on leaked draft text during the negotiations found potentially significant impacts to other public health policies – such as food labelling and alcohol control.
The TPP has yet to be ratified and while the text cannot be changed, Parliaments in TPP countries must carefully consider the consequences of ratifying an agreement with limited safeguards for public health.
At the very least, lessons should be drawn from this experience to inform negotiations for future trade agreements.
• Katie Hirono is Research Associate, Communities and Populations Research Program , Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE) , at the UNSW Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity.
• Deborah Gleeson is from the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
• See also this backgrounder from the BBC