Trade and investment liberalization and Asia's noncommunicable disease epidemic: A synthesis of data and existing literature

Abstract

Background: Trade and investment liberalization (trade liberalization) can promote or harm health. Undoubtedly it has contributed, although unevenly, to Asia’s social and economic development over recent decades with resultant gains in life expectancy and living standards. In the absence of public health protections, however, it is also a significant upstream driver of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes through facilitating increased consumption of the ‘risk commodities’ tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed foods, and by constraining access to NCD medicines. In this paper we describe the NCD burden in Asian countries, trends in risk commodity consumption and the processes by which trade liberalization has occurred in the region and contributed to these trends. We further establish pressing questions for future research on strengthening regulatory capacity to address trade liberalization impacts on risk commodity consumption and health. Methods: A semi-structured search of scholarly databases, institutional websites and internet sources for academic and grey literature. Data for descriptive statistics were sourced from Euromonitor International, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization. Results: Consumption of tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed foods was prevalent in the region and increasing in many countries. We find that trade liberalization can facilitate increased trade in goods, services and investments in ways that can promote risk commodity consumption, as well as constrain the available resources and capacities of governments to enact policies and programmes to mitigate such consumption. Intellectual property provisions of trade agreements may also constrain access to NCD medicines. Successive layers of the evolving global and regional trade regimes including structural adjustment, multilateral trade agreements, and preferential trade agreements have enabled transnational corporations that manufacture, market and distribute risk commodities to increasingly penetrate and promote consumption in Asian markets. Conclusions: Trade liberalization is a significant driver of the NCD epidemic in Asia. Increased participation in trade agreements requires countries to strengthen regulatory capacity to ensure adequate protections for public health. How best to achieve this through multilateral, regional and unilateral actions is a pressing question for ongoing research.

Publication DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-014-0066-8
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Politics, History and International Relations
Additional Information: © 2014 Baker et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Publication ISSN: 1744-8603
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2024 08:22
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2022 12:25
Full Text Link:
Related URLs: http://www.scop ... tnerID=MN8TOARS (Scopus URL)
https://globali ... 2992-014-0066-8 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2014-09-12
Authors: Baker, Phillip
Kay, Adrian (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-5854-4516)
Walls, Helen

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