TTIP: Commercial agenda harmful to health
What is the impact of TTIP on access to health care?
The European Commission’s TTIP negotiation mandate clearly aims at achieving maximum levels of services liberalization, opening up sectors to competition in the market. When a service sector is opened to trade, public providers will compete with private providers. While commercial providers primarily focus on the maximisation of profit, public services aim to provide for the population’s basic needs. Public services are not in a good position to compete, because -in principle- they should also provide services to the people that have the highest needs and the least purchasing power, e.g. the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the unemployed, migrants; in short, people that have a harder time in society. Public services are therefore generally not profitable. Commercial services on the other hand focus on the people that can afford them; what you pay is what you get. This leads to the exclusion of the less affluent part of the population. The creation of a two speed health care may well be commercialization’s biggest threat. This would mean high-tech services for those who can afford them and minimal service for the poor. This would expand the health divide, and is rightfully seen as unacceptable, as health is a universal human right.
Liberalization of the services sector also effectively weakens public policy margins, as free trade agreements are binding. Companies can take legal action against countries that have breached their rights as investors. This means that in cases where privatizations turn out to have negative effects, privatization cannot be undone unless enormous sums are being paid to investors to “compensate” their losses. Dispute settlement mechanisms between investors and TTIP member states will protect commercial interests, at the expense of public health. We have seen this in Australia’s case. Philip Morris has filed a case against Australia at the international court following the country’s decision to mark cigarette packs with shocking warning messages. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to roll back policy decisions when they turn out to have harmful impact on health.
Access to medication impacted by intellectual property rights protection
The pharmaceutical industry’s TTIP wish list includes protection of medication patents beyond 20 years, protection from price lowering mechanisms and restrictions on transparency rules on clinical medication research. These restrictions weaken governments’ abilities to guarantee access to medication. They are therefore also restrictions on a country’s public health protection. For developing countries, medication cost is already a huge problem, even with the current World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. The TTIP agreement plans to go even further when it comes to protecting the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, already the world’s largest transnational industry with its yearly 752 billion sales (figures of 2009). At the same time poor people unable to afford essential medication are dying. As 25 to 66% of health care spending in developing countries goes to the purchase of medication, its price determines also the level of health care.
TTIP will also have an indirect impact on health, through social determinants of health, or daily living conditions
TTIP’s biggest industrial lobby group is the food industry, with Monsanto as one of its members. The European Commission has even taken the first step itself in asking them for their recommendations. Several Monsanto products have been banned in Europe for health reasons. The use of the Monsanto herbicide Lasso is prohibited in Europe, as farmers using it have been poisoned. Bovilac, a growth hormone for cows, causing breast, colorectal and prostate cancers with humans, has been banned everywhere except in the US. The TTIP agreement aims at reducing health protection to a minimum, for the benefit of commercial interests.
A civil servant of the European Commission’s Directorate-General of Research and Innovation put it this way during a conference: “We need to harmonize norms in the EU and the US through TTIP. If we don’t, we will never be able to impose our rules to the rest of the world. It should not worry us if standards drop a little lower than we may have wished. The main thing is to form one front capable of imposing them on others afterwards.
What will be TTIP’s impact on developing countries?
TTIP’s impact on health will be felt worldwide, from North to South. But it will be felt most in developing countries. Low and middle income countries are more vulnerable. They have less funds and weaker governing capacity than high income countries. At the same time, they carry a double disease burden, with most victims worldwide in both infectious and non-infectious diseases and logically need more capacity to respond to this. However, developing countries have no or few social protection measures in place and no or few health systems are capable of answering to the population’s needs. TTIP has been drafted by and for companies based in industrialized countries. Profits will be transferred to industries in rich countries, increasingly weakening developing countries.
What can you do?
TWHA is participating in the 19 December #STOPTTIP rally with the D19-20 Alliance. We want policies giving priority to health over commercial interests. We demand respect for the precautionary principle. This principle allows preventive measures to be taken when scientific proof on negative health effects is not conclusive. We don’t want any trade and investment agreement being signed until it has been proven that no health damage will be caused. Come join us!