How trade policy can boost public and global health

That an effective and open trading system is beneficial for industry, thereby fueling growth and boosting employment is a “no-brainer”. What many people might not recognise, though, is how and to what extent global trade has a significant positive impact on public health.

Entitled ‘Trade for All: Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy‘, and based on three key principles- effectiveness, transparency and values- , the European Commission’s proposed new trade and investment strategy for the EU is focused on making sure as many people as possible can benefit from international trade. For the pharmaceutical industry, the benefits of free trade mean not only opening up markets in third countries, reducing red tape and creating a level playing field, but more importantly, it means providing patients around the globe with faster access to medicines and treatments and encouraging innovation.

So let’s have a quick look at how the new trade and investment strategy could boost international trade and thereby ensure that its benefits reach patients worldwide.

The new strategy prioritises the conclusion of major ongoing projects like the TTIP, the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the EU-China investment agreement. Moreover, it opens the door to new negotiations in the vital Asia-Pacific region, seeking a mandate from the EU Member States to start negotiations with Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Indonesia as well as talks of re-commencing a regional FTA with ASEAN. Finally, modernising the Customs Union with Turkey as well as existing FTAs with Mexico and Chile are other key priorities set out in the Commission strategy.

As our industry is increasingly global, EFPIA supports an ambitious EU trade policy. The Commissions new strategy on Asia-Pacific, engaging and re-engaging with key countries in the region, such as India, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines show great foresight. After all, estimations suggest that up to 90% of the world’s growth ¬– including that of the pharmaceutical industry – will be provided by emerging markets by 2020. Moreover, in light of the recently finalised TPP negotiations and the rapid development and integration of China and other Asian countries into the global market and value chains, it’s promising to see that a comprehensive Asia-Pacific strategy is of high priority to the Commission.

For pharmaceutical companies, this new strategy and renewed impetus for negotiations and discussions with key emerging markets represents a fantastic opportunity which enables the industry to operate in a more predictable environment. But how does it filter down to health systems and patients? Well, this is part of a logical chain of progression that starts with removing trade barriers, eliminating regulatory hurdles and increasing access to medicines in third countries.

The reduction of trade barriers translates into achieving efficiencies that reduce production costs and generate cost savings, which in turn can be used for increased investment in research and development. Together with an improved regulatory environment, this type of ecosystem is the key to boosting innovation in medicines and accelerating patient access to new treatments.

It will also be key that global standards are set, especially where technology races ahead. For example, with the introduction of advanced health apps and big data collaboration, international standards will need to be set in order to keep pace with the technological developments, which will undoubtedly revolutionise the industry in the coming years.

The inclusion in trade negotiations of IP provisions aligned with international standards will also provide a crucial platform to foster innovation and provide incentives, which are fundamental for the development of new medicines.

It is this essential combination of various factors within the framework of EU trade policy, that will enable the pharmaceutical industry to continue being a global player, advance innovation and develop new treatments and tomorrow’s cures for patients all over the world. This is the true value that trade policy can bring to patients, health systems and society.

The full EFPIA contribution to the strategy can be accessed here.

Jana Nackberg