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Joint NGO statement on health sustainability in trade and investment agreements

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The undersigned organisations call on the European Commission to design and implement a responsible trade policy which ensures health sustainability, enables public health action on health security threats, and mainstreams the EU commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is in line with the obligation in the EU treaties to ensure a high level of health protection in all EU policy areas (TFEU article 168).

Moreover, in September 2015, the EU and all Member States adopted the SDGs and committed to take domestic action in order to achieve them by 2030. [1] In November 2016, the Commission set out in its Communication on next steps for a sustainable European future,[2] its plan to support the implementation of SDG 3 to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. SDG 3 targets the burgeoning global burden of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), infectious disease epidemics (e.g. HIV, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria and others) and inequitable access to medicines. Since EU trade negotiations are taking place in the context of these health threats, identified in the SDGs, the EU must consider these health objectives as part of a sustainable trade policy. The failure to achieve the SDGs health-related objectives could undermine the EU’s health security and stability as well as increasing pressure on EU member states’ healthcare systems. Non-achievement is also likely to thwart the EU’s economic growth objectives.

True policy coherence with the SDGs implies respecting international legal and political commitments relating to NCDs[3] and their risk factors: tobacco[4], alcohol[5], food high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS)[6], infectious diseases,[7] and universal, affordable access to medicines.[8] The EU ought to advance a public health agenda in its trade policy.

It is crucial that trade and investment policy neither weakens the ability of the EU, its member states or partner countries to take action to ensure the prevention and management of NCDs and infectious diseases, nor impedes efforts to promote universal health coverage and access to affordable medicines. This requires that the EU recognises key global public health concerns, and mainstreams them and the SDG health objectives in trade and investment policy in all chapters of existing and future Free Trade and Investment Agreements.

All 17 SDGs either directly or indirectly contribute to health protection and improvement: good health is both an outcome of and precondition for achieving all the SDGs, particularly goal 3. Therefore, in order to achieve the SDGs, public health security threats must be considered as a priority in trade negotiations and broader trade and investment policy design.

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