NAFTA, and Boris Johnson’s Trade Agreement with Trump Are Threats to State Healthcare

One of the chapters in the book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, edited by Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, is by Barry Appleton, ‘International agreements and National health Plans: NAFTA’. NAFTA  is the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade zone that was set up in the 1990s which included America, Mexico and Canada. Appleton states that it is too early to fully appreciate the impact of the agreement, but states that ‘The NAFTA affects health care in two ways. first, acts as a general limitation on the ways that governments can deal with public policy. Second, the agreement acts to lock in market liberalisation in the health sector’. (p. 87). 

The treaty includes clauses like the following that prevent governments from nationalising the property of other nations:

No Party may directly or indirectly nationalize or expropriate an investment of an investor of another Party in its territory or take a measure tantamount to nationalization or expropriation of such an investment (‘expropriation’), except:

(a) for a public purpose;

(b) on a non-discriminatory basis;

(c) in accordance with due process of law and Article 1105 (1); and

(d) on payment of compensation in accordance with paragraphs 2 through 6. 

Now the renationalisation of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries taken over by the Americans would, I believe, come under ‘public purpose’, and so be permitted, but there would be objections to this. I remember at the time when the Americans were setting the system up there was real concern amongst the left that if the Americans were allowed to buy up British industries, including parts of the NHS under a NAFTA-trade deal, we would find it impossible to renationalise them.

This should still be a major concern with Boris Johnson’s negotiations with Trump, in which, despite Boris’ denials, the NHS is very much on the table. In fact Johnson, Liam Fox and Daniel Hannam set up the Institute for Free Trade in 2017 in order to push for a deal with the Americans, in which private American companies would be allowed to run British hospitals.

If this goes through, we may find it impossible under international law to get them, and other important businesses, back.

Don’t let Boris privatise the NHS.

 

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