At its annual review in December 2022, the UK Prevention Research Partnership Scientific Advisory Board asked PETRA to suggest the key ways that could most help policymakers to bring health into trade policy. This is PETRA’s proposal:
Ensure research funding does not silo health and trade by forging new and deeper links between research funding streams. This will enable attention to be focused more systematically on investigating the impacts and mitigations of trade policy on population health.
BUT: funding is not everything. The following five actions also need implementing urgently.
Using health impact assessments to evaluate the impacts of trade and economic policies is an effective way of scrutinising trade deals for their potential effects on health inequalities and population health. As Covid has underlined, a sick population cannot contribute to economic growth; neither economic growth nor social development will progress without significant reduction in present inequalities.
Government departments must talk to each other more effectively. Neither the Department for Health and Social Care nor the Department for International Trade should be able to deny responsibility for ensuring that trade and investment agreements are aligned with health policies. Government and Parliament also need greater communication between them on the aims and objectives of trade deals.
Ensure that the public health curriculum and professional training and development includes education on the potential impacts of trade policies on the determinants of health. Whilst the curriculum is undoubtedly crowded, the lack of public health capacity and capability to address trade issues compromises the ability to inform policy influencers and policymakers.
The lack of scrutiny and transparency in trade negotiations presents a growing threat to the public’s health. Trade deals conducted and signed in secret, with neither due Parliamentary scrutiny nor wider public accountability, are liable to fall victim to multinational corporate lobbying. This will result in trade policies that do not tackle health inequalities and fail to reduce non-communicable diseases.
Both higher education infrastructure and peer-review journals need to support cross-disciplinary research consistently and easily. Trade policies are governed by international trade law but the impacts are felt across a country’s health, environment and economy as well as being the focus of politics, business, and the regulatory process. Academic excellence in trade and health and the delivery of relevant evidence must reflect the multi-faceted nature of trade policy.
PETRA will provide a detailed rationale for these actions. To assist, we welcome your views on these six FACETS. Is such a framework helpful in communicating the need for an integrated approach to trade and health? Is anything missing?