28 July 2015
The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) is extremely disappointed Trade Minister Hon Tim Groser has rejected the call for an independent assessment of the impact of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPPA) on our health system.
“The NZMA joined with a growing number of health organisations in calling for such an independent assessment,” says NZMA Chair Dr Stephen Child. In a letter in May, the NZMA formally requested a comprehensive, independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA), based on the actual text of the agreement and including input from sector experts.
In his reply, Minister Groser noted that the Government was committed to protecting the fundamentals of the public health system, including PHARMAC. But he rejected a specific HIA in favour of a general National Interest Analysis, including health-related issues.
Dr Child says health equity and public health measures are key advocacy issues for the NZMA. “These include issues surrounding alcohol, tobacco regulation and affordable access to medicine,” he says. “We need to have a clear understanding of the possible effects of the TPPA on current and future policy settings and directions—before we are committed to such a deal.
“Before New Zealand commits to an agreement, we must ensure our ability to achieve legitimate public policy objectives—such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment—is protected. To do this we must have an independent assessment focused on these aspects.”
The United Nations Human Rights Commission recently voiced its concern about the possible ‘chilling effects’ of the Investor-state-dispute settlement (ISDS) chapter in the TPPA. As experience with other free trade agreements has shown, the regulatory functions of many states—and their ability to legislate in the public interest—have been put at risk by the ISDS provisions.
As the UN pointed out: ‘ISDS chapters…provide protection for investors but not for States or for the population. They allow investors to sue States but not vice-versa.’
Increasing numbers of health organisations and individuals have called for an HIA, with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) joining the chorus this week, ahead of this week’s Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Hawaii.
“With the total lack of transparency around the negotiations so far, we need the assurance an independent assessment can give that our health system and affordable access to medicines will be protected, and the TPPA will not compromise New Zealand’s ability to formulate policies to improve the health of its people,” says Dr Child.