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Trade Agreements and the Healthcare Industry


With the current globalization of trade, the provision of healthcare services is becoming a significant issue that requires the special attention of professionals. The current trend towards the establishment of trading agreements can affect the variety of aspects of healthcare, including pharmaceuticals and medical devices production, public health, patients’ insurance services, innovative methods of treatment, and others. However, these trade agreements and organizations may have different effects on the execution of the healthcare policies that countries try to implement. This paper will discuss how the World Trade Organization influences the healthcare industry and what are the positive and negative effects of the World Trade Organization agreements on one aspect of the healthcare industry that is public health.

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Main body

World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international institution that is aimed to provide the regulation of trade between states. One of the principles of the WTO organization is the reduction of trade barriers and trade liberalization. WTO has agreements addressed to regulate specific aspects of trade in a country. The institution carries out a coordinated policy in the interests of commerce and health interests at the national and international levels, supported by regulatory WTO agreements. The WTO treaties include The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), The Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), etc. The institution also strives to work on “trade and health,” which means the maximization of availability of medication of citizens, provision of high-standard public health services, and reduction of possible risks associated with public health (“WTO trade topics,” 2019). The assistance of member-states of WTO in guaranteeing the availability of essential treatment is a long-term goal of the organization.

WTO can positively affect the provision of public health in countries. It is suggested by Friel et al. (2014) that the monitoring and evaluation systems that World Health Organization implements with World Trade Organization together help countries to establish coherent policies that minimize the negative effect of trade liberalization and protect the public health provision. Moreover, it is stated that the least-developed countries within the organization that experience a lack of capacity to sustain the public health system can benefit from the cooperation between countries and can get support from other members (Labonté, 2019). This redistribution of resources results in greater access to public health services for minorities. Finally, the liberalization enhances the spread of information that contributes to the knowledge distribution of health policies and the fast detection and prevention of diseases in the public health industry. Definite advantages of WTO agreements accelerate the actions that are made in public healthcare services regulation.

Despite having significant advantages when addressing public health distribution, WTO has adverse effects on this aspect of healthcare as well. First, it is claimed that low-income countries within the organization are struggling to find other types of revenues to substitute tariffs, which resulted in a decrease in revenues of these countries (Smith, 2016. This situation influenced the number of financial resources that are spent on public health by governments. Second, the growing concern is rising towards the establishment of WTO agreements that are considered to affect negatively the “policy space” authorities of countries have in the field of public health (Smith, 2016). This reduction in protection measures that governments can establish in a state impacts in a higher level of disease risks. Thirdly, the higher prices of medicines that are formed due to the patent protection policy of WTO may result in limitations of public health services.


To conclude, one can say that World Trade Organization agreements may have both advantages and disadvantages when considering the public health aspect of the healthcare industry. However, the acceleration of trade, connections, and communication may significantly influence the cooperation and support that countries can have within WTO. Authorities, from their side, should pay attention to ensuring that public health services are as accessible as possible. Nonetheless, each country by itself needs to improve the availability of healthcare services to those who need them the most.


  1. Friel S., Hattersley L., Townsend R. (2014). Trade Policy and Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health 36, 325-344. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122739
  2. Labonté R. (2019). Trade, Investment and Public Health: Compiling the Evidence, Assembling the Arguments. Global Health 15(1), 1-12. doi: 10.1186/s12992-018-0425-y
  3. Smith R., Blouin C., Mirza Z., Beyer P., Drager N. Trade and Health: Towards building a National Strategy. Web.
  4. WTO Trade Topics. (2019). Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Trade Agreements and the Healthcare Industry'. 5 January.

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