Summary: In Conversation with Professor Meri Koivusalo – Trade and Health: When Actions do not match Aspirations

EUhealthgov |

On 7 October 2021, EUHealthGov held its second quarterly seminar. We were delighted to be joined by Professor Meri Koivusalo from Tampere University (Finland) for a discussion on how EU trade negotiations can impact health services. She highlighted a persistent discrepancy between the EU’s aspirations and the reality of health services safeguarding when so-called ‘new generation’ trade agreements are negotiated. Meri Koivusalo’s presentation was based on her recently published article co-authored with Drs Noora Heinonen and Liina-Kaisa Tynkkynen at Tampere University.

A key point of discussion was how new generation trade agreements, such as CETA and TTIP, are becoming increasingly comprehensive, which can have long-lasting implications on the regulatory landscape. We looked at how they can affect health in a variety of ways, including via the trade flows of unhealthy commodities; constraints put on national policy space, and the protection of corporate benefits (through intellectual property rights and investment protection among other mechanisms). Such trade agreements can shape ‘the new normal’ in a way that institutionalises liberalisation as the default path forward. Meanwhile, assurances like commitments to the right to regulate tend to be made outside of the legally binding negotiation text, thus bearing little concrete weight. 

Another angle explored was the multi-level governance aspect of EU trade agreement negotiations, and the extent to which Member States share a common position on how health services should be treated in the negotiations. 

Finally, we discussed the promising emergence of a ‘positive trade agenda’: can a positive trade agenda comply with other priorities like human rights, gender equality, and sustainability, or would it entrench the prioritisation of commercial policy?

A recording of the event is available here