Published: 11 July 2023.
New analysis by Public Health Wales finds that the terms that allow the UK to join a large Indo-Pacific trading bloc could make it more difficult for Wales to take strong public health action in the future to protect health and well-being.
The findings come from a Health Impact Assessment of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (CPTPP) – only the second such analysis of a trade agreement to be conducted globally.
The terms of the CPTPP agreement could allow foreign investors to take legal action against new public health laws created by the UK or Welsh Governments if they see it having a negative impact on their business. The fear that legal challenges could be brought, and the expense of fighting them, can lead to ‘regulatory chill’, where governments are deterred from proposing new laws in the first place.
The HIA found potential positive economic impacts that may offer health and well-being improvements for some groups of people in Wales, but that these would need to be outweighed by other potential harms. Those in Wales on low incomes were among the population groups identified as being more likely to experience potential negative impacts.
The HIA looks at potential short and longer-term impacts and notes that assurances given by current ministers may be overridden by future governments. If regulations are downgraded any time after joining the CPTPP, for example, then the agreement would prevent them from being restored or improved on.
The HIA calls for more transparency around the details of trade agreements at earlier stages and further research into the links between trade terms and health. It highlights the value of HIAs, as a well-established, evidence-based public health tool, for helping policy makers to understand the full impact of trade agreements on health and well-being in Wales and the UK as a whole.
The HIA was based on publicly available evidence and information to June 2023.
Dr Liz Green, Programme Director for Health Impact Assessment in the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre at Public Health Wales, said: “The Health Impact Assessment is a valuable tool for evaluating how trade agreements may affect different communities and populations across Wales.
“It enables policy makers and commissioners to anticipate the impacts of trade agreements, like the CPTPP, on health, well-being and equality, and understand what action may be needed to mitigate potential risks and maximise opportunities now and into the longer-term.
“We recognise that the impacts of the CPTPP on Wales are potential rather than actual at this stage, as the UK’s membership is not yet finalised and because the full implications of joining the agreement will take time to emerge and may change under different governments. We look forward to the opportunity to review the findings of the HIA in light of the full terms of the accession agreement once this has been made publicly available. We hope to see that many of the potential negatives identified will have been addressed in the latter stages of the negotiation.
“We hope that sharing the findings of this analysis now helps to demonstrate the value of HIA as a tool for enabling full consideration of the potential health and well-being impacts of trade agreements, and to raise awareness of the potential health and well-being impacts of the CPTPP specifically ahead of the discussions around this trade agreement that are to come.”