Trade Agreement Won’t Affect Public Health According to EC Officials
Health will not be on the table in the on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership according to EU negotiators, alleviating earlier concerns that that the deal could compromise the safety of food and drugs as well as access to affordable medicines.
At a private meeting in Brussels on 16th July, European Commission officials briefed non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives on the outcome of the opening negotiations held in Washington, DC, on 8 July. They assured that the public health sector was not discussed in the first round of talks, but also that there was no plan for it to be included in any following rounds of negotiations, despite earlier claims that the talks will include all subjects.
Now officials on both sides of the table have made it clear that there would be red tape around certain topics. Health policy, being a national issue that cannot be controlled by an international treaty, is one of them. Article 168 of the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that “Union action shall respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organization and delivery of health services and medical care.”
Twenty-eight EU governments and the European Parliament will have to ratify the final agreement before it can take effect. The UK trade minister Stephen Green has already confirmed that “further liberalization of the procurement of healthcare services” was not part of the negotiations, and European MPs are unlikely to agree to any treaty that introduces changes to national health systems.
The meeting came after a letter addressed to US President Barack Obama, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and European Council president Herman van Rompuy, signed by 63 organizations after documents leaked from the EU seemed to suggest that state owned organizations will have to compete with commercial enterprises, locking them into a competitive market.
The European Commission is now seeking to reassure critics that the investor protection measures to be negotiated in the treaty will not be used to attack laws legitimately approved in the public interest.
The next round of transatlantic negotiations will take place in Brussels in early October. Shortly before then the complete list of sectors to be covered during the talks will be released, giving a clear indication of the extent to which public health issues are, or are not, on the table. Negotiations are expected to conclude by October 2014.
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