Trade and Health: a Gendered Analysis

Date Posted: Monday 27th June 2022

Feminist EconomicsHealthTrade

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by Silke Trommer for the Women’s Budget Group


This briefing, written for the Women’s Budget Group by Silke Trommer, University of Manchester, examines through a feminist lens how the UK’s trade policy agenda intersects with public health. The links between trade and health are feminist issues, because women are primarily responsible for care and life-making work in the formal economy and in domestic settings. The briefing examines how the UK-Japan, UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand Free Trade Agreements (FTA) affect health systems and food & nutrition, which are central to good health and social reproductive conditions for all. The UK government’s current approach to trade negotiations fails to tackle known problems around the trade and health nexus, including its gendered dimensions, thus upholding gendered, health and other social inequalities.

• The government is limiting domestic policy space for the production and consumption of healthy foods and is moving away from EU and WTO rules that confirm the precautionary principle on consumer safety.

• It subscribes to Intellectual Property provisions in FTAs that go beyond WTO rules and tilt the political and regulatory balance between public and investor interests further in the direction of investors.

• It takes an extensive approach to service liberalisation, liberalising most service sectors implicated in the day-to-day running of the NHS and social care.

• Although a number of health services are explicitly exempt in UK-New Zealand, and all three agreements allow governments to regulate in the interest of health in principle, the relevant provisions do not provide sufficient legal certainty to effectively safeguard policy space on health and care services for future UK governments.

• The government procurement chapters in UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand set a welcome precedent by including a clause on environmental, social and labour considerations, although this should not be subject to non-discrimination requirements and should be broadened in scope to explicitly include health and gender.

• While Investor-State Dispute Settlement is currently excluded in all three FTAs, it is not clear that UK negotiators will exclude it in attempts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or in negotiations with Canada, the US, Mexico or India.

Read the full paper here