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Globalization and health policy space: Introducing the WTOhealth dataset of trade challenges to national health regulations at World Trade Organization, 1995–2016

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  • Barlow, P.
  • Stuckler, D.

Abstract

Do international trade rules and agreements constrain health policy space? A multitude of global actors and institutions with different interests and power can shape national health policy, and trade rules provide one means through which to exert pressure on governments. Yet, the full scope of political pressure on health policy within the global trade regime is insufficiently understood, as previous research largely focussed on challenges to food, alcohol, and tobacco regulations and used small-N case studies. This potentially overlooks other domains of influence and we lack an understanding of quantitative trends and patterns therein. In this article we introduce a novel dataset, WTOhealth, comprising all challenges to national health regulations at the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee between 1995 and 2016. The dataset is based on 1496 pages of minutes from 71 TBT meetings. We describe how we developed this dataset and present an exploratory analysis of key patterns within the data. Our analysis shows that WTO members raised 250 trade challenges to health regulations between 1995 and 2016. 83.6% of challenges to low- or lower-middle income country (LMIC) members were raised by high-income countries (HICs). Many challenges centred on food (16.4% challenges), alcohol (10.4%), and tobacco (4.2%) policies, but a substantial proportion concerned other products, including toxic chemicals (9.1%), pharmaceuticals and medical devices (8.1%), machinery (7.8%), and motor vehicles (7.3%). This includes measures targeting medical device safety, increased access to pharmaceuticals, and reduced exposure to toxins harmful to both health and the environment. We further examine these challenges, finding that HIC members made claims with contentious scientific support. In short, diverse health regulations may be changed or delayed following contentious challenges at the TBT Committee. There is a need for further research investigating the nature and influence of WTO challenges to diverse health regulations.

Suggested Citation

  • Barlow, P. & Stuckler, D., 2021. "Globalization and health policy space: Introducing the WTOhealth dataset of trade challenges to national health regulations at World Trade Organization, 1995–2016," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 275(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:275:y:2021:i:c:s0277953621001398
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.113807
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Journal round-up: Social Science & Medicine 275
      by Will Sullivan in The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 2021-05-10 06:00:13

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