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

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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.

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APA

Baker, P., Kay, A., & Walls, H. (2014). Trade and investment liberalization and Asia’s noncommunicable disease epidemic: A synthesis of data and existing literature. Globalization and Health, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-014-0066-8

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