Government exposed health care to trade challenge at the WTO

February 19, 2001

OTTAWA--Contrary to repeated assurances from the Minister of International Trade and other federal government officials that Canada's health care system is protected from trade challenge under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a new study released today shows that the government has, in fact, recklessly exposed health care to the GATS commercial rules.

Matthew Sanger, the researcher who conducted the 143 page study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, made the startling discovery that health insurance has already been included in the list of Canadian services which are subjected to the full force of the GATS rules.

"It's astonishing the government would have done this. Now all future measures are exposed to challenge," said Sanger. "So, for example, any extension of public health insurance to cover pharmaceuticals or home care would almost certainly be challenged by the multinational drug giants and US for-profit home care companies. They would be able to demand stiff compensation, and the added cost would be a huge deterrent to implementing such policies." He stated.

The federal government must act immediately, according to Sanger, to fix the problem and safeguard our health care system from trade challenge.

Sanger proposes a number of concrete measures the government must take including:

  • "insist on a self-defining general exception for health care which applies to all WTO members and will not be targeted in future rounds."
  • "exclude health care from the scope of the agreement, negotiate explicit exceptions and limitations to all Canada's GATS commitments which may affect healthcare services. "
  • "invoke GATS article XXI to modify Canada's schedule of commitments in health insurance, and enter a limitation which shields public health insurance and ensures that Canadians can expand medicare in the future."

The CCPA study comes at a time when the Government is finalizing its negotiating position for a new stage of services negotiations set to begin in Geneva in late March.

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