Health Impact Assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

In this guest post, Krycia Cowling introduces a webinar organized by Katie Hirono and Fiona Haigh, from the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research, and Evaluation, at the University of New South Wales. The webinar, presented to the APHA Trade and Health Forum, discusses the health impact assessment their team conducted on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Krycia is a doctoral student in health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Last week, negotiators agreed on a final draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade agreement whose members collectively represent 40% of the global economy. In the coming months, the final draft has to be approved by all members’ governments; once in force, it will be the largest regional trade agreement to date.

Throughout negotiations, health advocates and researches have raised concerns about threats to public health posed by particular provisions in the agreement. In particular, attention has focused on the implications of extended intellectual property rights for the price of medicines and the power given to corporations to challenge health legislation through special forms of arbitration. But there are many other possible pathways through which an agreement this expansive may affect health.

Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a tool to examine the likely health effects of a forthcoming policy or program and to develop recommendations to adapt the policy or program to maximize potential benefits and minimize potential harms for health. Many experts have suggested that HIAs be conducted on new trade agreements, and recently, a group of researchers in Australia conducted what may be the first HIA of a trade agreement while under negotiation.

In this presentation, Katie Hirono and Fiona Haigh, two members of the HIA research team at the Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation, at the University of New South Wales, describe the process for conducting an HIA of the TPP and their key findings. They focus on the implications for the health of the Australian population, through impacts on the cost of medicines, tobacco control, alcohol control, and food labeling. As Australia is only one of twelve countries set to join the TPP, and the agreement is now entering its final phases of approval, HIAs from the perspective of other potential member countries would be welcome inputs to debates around passing the TPP.