Intended for healthcare professionals


Making trade work for public health

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 06 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1214

WTO talks in Seattle offer an opportunity to get public health on the trade agenda

  1. Nick Drager, medical officer
  1. Department of Health in Sustainable Development, World Health Organisation, Geneva

    Recent trade disagreements over hormone treated beef, genetically modified foods, and antiretroviral drugs have captured the public interest and revealed the tensions between national public health policies and the need to comply with trade agreements overseen by the World Trade Organisation. A new round of global trade negotiations will be on the agenda next month at the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conference, and the World Health Organisation will attend the talks to ensure that the voice of public health is heard.

    The World Trade Organisation is the forum for negotiating trade agreements and resolving trade disputes between countries. It was established in 1995 to provide the institutional and legal foun-dation for the multilateral trading system, which is designed to permit trade to flow as freely as possible worldwide without undesirable side effects. The underlying assumption is that human welfare will increase through economic growth fuelled by trade liberalisation.

    The General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), adopted in 1948, focused on …

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