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Leaving EU provides both opportunity and risk to public health as new trade agreements are negotiated

Published: 28 October 2021

For the first time in half a century, the UK is free to negotiate its own international trade agreements now that it has left the EU. 

The terms of these trade agreements have the potential to affect health and well-being in Wales in many ways - from the food we eat to our healthcare services, job market and ability to invest in public services.  

Louisa Petchey, Senior Policy Specialist, Policy and International Health, said:  

“Trade agreements can have wide reaching impacts on public health - both on the determinants of health and on the ability for governments to improve public health through new policy.  

This paper we are publishing today aims to help trade policy experts understand the relevance of public health to their work, and enable public health professionals to identify where trade agreements could affect their efforts to improve public health outcomes.  

The negotiation of new trade agreements certainly brings opportunities for Wales and the rest of the UK but we need to be alert to the potential unintended, negative consequences for public health as well.  

All of us working in public health in Wales have a role to play in informing the terms of new trade agreements and policy where they relate to our areas of expertise to maximise the potential benefits to health and well-being.”  


The key messages from the report are: 

  • The ways in which trade agreements are likely to affect health and well-being in Wales include changes to employment, farming, food and the ability to meet its climate change and sustainability ambitions. 
  • The impacts of trade agreements are likely to be felt differently by different individuals and communities, making it possible that they reinforce or make existing health and inequalities in Wales worse.  
  • The UK Government are responsible for negotiating all trade agreements and Welsh Government would need to advocate for trade agreements that work for Wales during that process. Neither Welsh MPs nor the Senedd have the power to change or reject new trade agreements.  
  • So far the UK Government has not taken proactive steps to use its independent trade policy to promote better public health outcomes. The terms of new trade agreements and related laws may make it harder for the Welsh Government to introduce new policies to improve public health, for example on climate change or helping tackle obesity.  

‘A briefing note: What could post-Brexit trade agreements mean for public health in Wales?’ is for public health professionals and officials working on public health policy who are interested in how Brexit and trade agreements may affect their work, and for UK and Welsh officials working in trade policy to raise awareness of the relevance of trade to the health and well-being of the people of Wales.