Health professionals call on Groser to give trade deal a health check Saturday, 25 October 2014

Health professionals say a comprehensive health impact assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement must be carried out to protect the health of New Zealanders. They say leaked information suggests international big business, such as the tobacco or alcohol industries, could sue the New Zealand government if it puts health-based policies in place that might threaten their profits.

Clauses designed to protect the intellectual property rights of the pharmaceutical industry would make medicines more expensive in New Zealand by preventing PHARMAC from purchasing cheaper generic drugs.

Members of ten health organisations are calling on Trade Minister, Hon. Tim Groser, to bring in health experts to give the proposed TPP an independent and comprehensive health check-up.

In an article inNZ Doctorpublished online today they say the results should be publicly released for full discussion, well before New Zealand commits to the trade deal.

"The negotiations are all being carried out in secret, and the little that has leaked out is very worrying," says Dr Joshua Freeman, a spokesperson for the health organisations.

"New Zealand should have the sovereign right to make laws and policies for the wellbeing of its people without interference. Under the TPP it appears that New Zealand could find itself in the international trade tribunal if it brings in new policy around, for example, tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food, or environmental regulation."

The TPP is a trade agreement in negotiation between New Zealand, the USA, and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. Ministers have given assurances that New Zealanders' health interests will be protected, but the health professionals believe these promises are inadequate.

"We wouldn't just trust that a new medicine or procedure is safe, simply because someone makes general reassurances," says Dr Freeman.

"There needs to be published research, peer review and expert scrutiny before we expose our patients and communities to something new. Anything else would be medical negligence. We expect the same standards of evidence and due diligence for the TPP.

"The TPP poses a greater threat than a new drug or medical procedure and we want to be able to assess and debate the health risks before we commit to such a deal."

The health professionals argue the risks are not just theoretical. Overseas pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, mining companies and the oil industry are all using trade agreements to protect their investments - regardless of the pollution or damage to people's health caused by their activities or products. The World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières and United Nations experts have all warned of these dangers (see below).

"We need a full health impact assessment, and its results have to be open to public scrutiny before deciding that this trade deal is safe and healthy for New Zealanders," Dr Freeman says.

ENDS

Signatories:

Dr Rhys Jones, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council

Dr Alexandra Macmillan, Co-convenor, OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council

Susanne Trim, Professional Services Manager, NZ Nurses Organisation

Rebecca Williams, Director, Alcohol Healthwatch

Prof Doug Sellman, Alcohol Action NZ Incorporated

Marise Stuart, President, NZ Medical Students Association