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Trade Agreements and Public Health

Global health policies on trade are crucial for raising public health. Current international trade deals incorporate traditional trade rules (such as restrictions like tariffs and quotas) and insurance, health, intellectual property, environment, and other matters (Rodrik, 2018). Due to such a vast array of subjects that are impacted by trade agreements, the health of a community is directly or indirectly connected to such agreements.

There are multiple ways in which trade policies can positively shape public health in a country. If governments develop a proper regulatory system allowing their countries to reap benefits from increased international competition and trade liberalization, these nations can benefit from globalization. Firstly, well-regulated economic integration can lead to higher import volumes of medicine and clinical equipment (Schram & Townsend, 2020). This would expand the availability and diversity of drugs, which is advantageous for communities. Secondly, international trade can accelerate the cross-country provision of health services (Schram & Townsend, 2020). Some health services include website information, online consultations, video conferencing, and examining medical claims. Nowadays (especially due to the COVID-19), e-health has become an integral part of health provision in the afflicted countries (Wind et al., 2020). The crisis has caused growth in cases of mental health problems, which has created a greater need for online health services. Thirdly, global trade policies can considerably increase the amount of FDI received by healthcare institutions (Schram & Townsend, 2020). Those funds and resources can be used for more extensive dissemination of new technologies and ideas, construction of clinics and equipping them with modern devices, employing new and more qualified personnel in the sector.

An illustrative example of health benefits from international trade is the decision to sign NAFTA by the US. As a result of the agreement, Mexico started to export a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables to the US market, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, berries, and others (Galvez, 2018). The price for those goods was relatively low; therefore, American consumers have benefited not only in terms of improved diet and health but also financially.

One of the examples that shows a negative impact on health from trade is the rise in calorie intake in Canada after signing CUFSTA with the US. In their research, Barlow et al. (2018) found that the agreement allowed the US to invest intensely in the Canadian food and beverage market, spending on average $1.82 billion more after the trade deal. This has considerably raised the availability of calories for Canadians (by around 170 kilocalories per person per day). The study concluded that CUFSTA indirectly promoted poor diet, obesity, and conditions related to excessive weight.

A similar example relates to NAFTA and how it has exacerbated the health issues of the Mexican population. As a result of NAFTA, the US large food and beverages corporations opened a prospective consumer market (Galvez, 2018). The endeavor to sell as many products as possible has led to Mexicans starting to alter their eating habits and drinking preferences. Cheap processed foods and soft drinks have created conditions for people to develop diet-based illnesses. During the two decades after NAFTA ratification in 1994, female obesity has risen by an astonishing 270 percent (Galvez, 2018). Other diseases connected to unhealthy diet have also grown: between 1990 and 2013, chronic kidney disease (by 276 percent), diabetes (by 21 percent), ischemic heart disease (by 52 percent). Overall, the data presents the relationship between NAFTA and diminished public health in Mexico.


Barlow, P., McKee, M., & Stuckler, D. (2018). The impact of US free trade agreements on calorie availability and obesity: a natural experiment in Canada. American journal of preventive medicine, 54(5), 637-643.

Galvez, A. (2018). Eating NAFTA: trade, food policies, and the destruction of Mexico. University of California Press.

Rodrik, D. (2018). What do trade agreements really do?. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32(2), 73-90.

Schram, A., & Townsend, B. (2020). International Trade Agreements and Global Health: Pathways and Politics. Handbook of Global Health, 1-28.

Wind, T. R., Rijkeboer, M., Andersson, G., & Riper, H. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: The ‘black swan’for mental health care and a turning point for e-health. Internet Interventions, 20.

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