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Developing countries and trade in health services: which way is forward?

International trade in health services appears to be increasing It may receive a further boost when liberalized and bound under international trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Liberalization of trade in health services can create opportunities, but may also exacerbate preexisting problems. Moreover, once liberalization is locked in under international trade agreements, reversing policies becomes difficult, especially for developing countries. Making undue commitments to liberalize health services under GATS may therefore result in the loss of policy space. Yet the GATS agreement contains considerable flexibility to fine-tune commitments in accordance with national (health) objectives. But flexibility entails complexity, and for GATS the complexity is compounded by the fact that some of its rules are still being developed. Moreover, flexibility is meaningless unless used, and used well, which calls for a profound analysis of the alternatives and their implications. This article provides an overview of considerations related to (international) trade in health services and key features of GATS that are relevant to public health. It highlights that policymakers have something at stake in GATS negotiations; thus, they should take an interest in liberalization of trade in health services, analyze its implications, and give input and guidance to their country's trade negotiators. Moreover, to convey their concerns and aspirations effectively, they must learn the trade language, while staying focused on (public) health objectives.[1]


  1. Developing countries and trade in health services: which way is forward? Timmermans, K. International journal of health services : planning, administration, evaluation. (2004) [Pubmed]
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