Are Trade Agreements and Economic Co-Operatives Compatible with Alcohol Control Policies and Injury Prevention?

Article excerpt

In the past 20 years, dramatic changes have occurred in the movement toward global economies and free/liberalized markets. Various trade agreements have been increasing international trade, challenging "unfair" trade practices and pushing to "harmonize" and coordinate regulations, taxation, policies and other public and private enterprises. Could these trade agreements affect alcohol and injury control policies? Furthermore, could trade agreements ultimately affect injury trends? Unfortunately research studies and data on this topic are scarce. This paper presents information on the principles underlying international trade agreements and indicates how these principles could potentially affect the sales, regulations and taxation of alcohol and impact on injuries. The call is for researchers to conduct the research needed to address these questions and potential impacts.

All nations have historically viewed trade as the key mechanism by which to improve the wealth and well-being of their citizens (External Affairs, Canada, 1983). Indeed, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) makes specific reference to the fundamental principle that the purpose of trade and its economic endeavor is to improve the standard of living and prosperity among nations. The liberalization of world trade under GATT auspices in the postwar period did result in widespread increases in the standard of living, life expectancy and prosperity for many nations (External Affairs, Canada, 1983). Yet over the last decade, various developments have been changing this trajectory (United Nations Human Development, 1996).

It is increasingly apparent that we are moving from nationstatehood to what has been called the "new world order" (Finn, 1996). As Hall (1996) states, this new world order has been characterized as "globalization [that] emphasizes the ability of corporations to conduct business around the world free from regulatory constraints of nation-states and their electorates" (p. 4). Over the last 10 years, globalization, free trade, deregulation, the new communications technology, and the conversion of nearly all political parties to the free-trade agenda have changed nation-statehood status (Finn, 1996; Randall and Konrad, 1995).

This paper introduces some key issues regarding globalization, in particular free/liberalized trade agreements, and its real and potential impact on alcohol control policies and injury control. To date much epidemiological and evaluative research has been carried out on alcohol and injury control; with some exceptions (Bruun et al., 1975; Edwards et al., 1994; Makela et al., 1981; Tigerstedt,1990a), the majority of these studies have had a local and nationalistic focus. Yet an emerging global economic force, which is affecting nationstatehood and national sovereignty, has been threatening to challenge national alcohol control policies, and potentially to shape national injury rates. This emerging force promises to shift the way nations conduct their internal business and control their collective health and safety risks. This paper provides the general principles and assesses the potential impact of free/liberalized trade agreements on alcohol policies and some recent trends in these areas. In addition, this paper presents some recent trends and issues related to unintentional and intentional injury control, with a particular focus on emerging patterns in the transportation sector. Because of the breadth of the literature on the globalization agenda driven by trade agreements and economic cooperatives, this paper cannot be comprehensive. Indeed, some excellent articles have been written focusing on specific issues such as trade agreements on alcoholic beverages in North America (Ferris et al., 1993) and economic cooperatives like the European Community and alcohol policy (Tigerstedt, 1990a). However, this paper identifies some key themes and issues related to both alcohol policy and injury prevention in the hope of injecting some new ideas into the current discussions and research in the field. …


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