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Free Trade for Better Health
Stevens points out that economic growth leads to health - not the other way around. As long as bad economic policies rule the day in Africa and elsewhere, citizens and companies will lack the incentives to invest in the technologies and infrastructure that can overcome the diseases associated with poverty.
Prosperity brings with it decent sanitation, clean water and clean, efficient domestic fuels. A lack of these necessities is directly responsible for a large proportion of mortality and morbidity in the world’s poorest countries. People in wealthier countries, meanwhile, have the resources to ensure that they are well-nourished and live in hygienic conditions. This is why life expectancies have been on the rise in these regions since modern economic growth began at the time of the Industrial Revolution.
The second reason why trade improves health relates to so-called ‘technology transfer’. Before the late 19th Century, cross-border trade was restricted to a handful of nations. Today, all countries trade internationally, with lower-income countries recently seeing their share of global trade increasing significantly. …
Free trade has a positive impact on health, so it is reprehensible that governments continue to impose restrictions on trade. It is particularly horrific that drugs and medical devices continue to be subject to a range of import levies in the majority of lower-income countries, with the result that many sick people are priced out of treatment. Removing these unconscionable restrictions on trade must be a priority for trade negotiators concerned about the health of the poorest.
Franklin Cudjoe, director of a think tank in Ghana, made essentially the same argument in the Wall Street Journal this week, saying that “African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy.” Hopefully, Cudjoe and Stevens will help spur much needed new thinking on international development.
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