New analysis of a secret international trade deal has shown that the Federal Government could be about to put public health and personal wellbeing at risk.

A review of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement by Australian researchers has found any potential economic gains could come at a cost to the health system, and vulnerable populations in particular.

The review looked at the potential impact of the TPP’s provisions on the cost of medicines, food labelling, tobacco and alcohol control policies.

“If this agreement is signed it may take longer for generic brand drugs to enter the market, which will increase the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or hit consumers with higher out of pocket costs,” Associate Professor Lynn Kemp, Director of UNSW’s Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation, says.

“People, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, will then face the choice of prioritising necessities like food and housing over purchasing prescription medicines to look after their health.”

The health impact assessment (HIA) also found the TPP’s current provisions have the potential to limit regulation of alcohol availability and marketing, risking increased alcohol consumption rates and abuse, especially among young members of the community.

The agreement poses risks to the ability of Government to regulate and restrict tobacco advertising, potentially leading to increased tobacco use and smoking prevalence, it said.

It could also restrict the ability of Government to implement new food labelling policies to reduce the consumption of unhealthy foods, rates of obesity and related health outcomes.

Associate Professor Kemp says her biggest concern about the agreement is that it is being negotiated in secret.

“We call on the Government to conduct these trade negotiations with full public transparency,” she says.

“This is a complex issue, and what might be the right thing in terms of economics may not be appropriate for protecting public health in Australia.”

“Public health concerns must override economic or trade concerns in any area where these priorities may conflict within the TPP.”

The assessment made recommendations including:

  • Keeping patient co-payments for the PBS as low as possible to ensure the affordability of medicines
  • Excluding Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) from the TPP as this is a serious threat to public health policies
  • Ensure the provisions of the TPP do not limit the capacity of governments to introduce and implement priority interventions to maintain or improve public health.