The Need for a Balancing Act between Trade Agreements and Health

CAPTION: Minister for Health Dr Neil Sharma.
PRESS RELEASES
11 February 2013.?[Nadi ? February 11] The Pacific should take the best of what trade and trade agreements have to offer and ensure that they do not add to the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) crisis in the region, Pacific Islands? country delegates heard today at a sub-regional workshop which highlights the intersect between trade agreements and health.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) cause about 80% of all deaths in the Pacific. They are a significant cause of disability and premature death affecting people in the workforce and adversely impact on the economic development of the region.

The World Health Organization?s Dr Ezekiel Nukuro said that a critical part of the response to NCDs consisted of understanding the impact of trade on health and vice versa.

?Globalization and the cross-border flows in goods, services, people, and capital are affecting health in the Pacific through an increasing number of channels. For example, health professionals are emigrating from resource-poor settings in search of better economic opportunities. Food price rises are affecting rates of malnutrition and at the same time record high levels of diabetes, obesity and other diet and lifestyle related diseases are witnessed throughout the region alongside growing imports of energy dense nutrient poor foods and beverages such as soft drinks and instant noodles,? he said.

The Deputy Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Mrs Fekitamoeloa ?Utoikamanu said the interests of public health should be considered in trade negotiations.

?Different arms of government will need to work together on this, and ensure internal policy measures that are protective to public health are maintained whilst gaining the best from what trade agreements have to offer the Pacific,? said Ms Utoikamanu.

The Acting Prime Minister of Fiji, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Anti-Corruption, Public Enterprises, Communications, Civil Aviation, Tourism, Industry and Trade, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum delivered opening remarks at the workshop.

He highlighted some of the actions that Government undertook to promote healthy living. One of the examples included the increase in duty on unhealthy food items like palm oil, monosodium glutamate and tobacco, and the reduction in the import duty on fruits and vegetables to make them more affordable.

The four day regional workshop which started in Nadi today will assist country delegates ensure that their trade agreements and policies take full account of public health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer and that their country?s health initiatives are trade-compliant.

The workshop is led by a number of regional and international technical experts and is attended by health, trade and civil society representatives from nine Pacific Island countries – Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu along with representatives from the region?s development partners.

The workshop is jointly organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre and the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the Pacific Research Centre for the Prevention of Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (known as C-POND). It will conclude on Thursday, February 14 with closing remarks from Fiji?s Minister of Health, Dr. Neil Sharma.