The WTO and the World Health Organization (WHO)

The WTO collaborates with the WHO on a number of different issues related to trade and health. Although there is no formal agreement between the WHO and the WTO, the WHO has observer status in the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee, and it has ad hoc observer status in the Council on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Council for Trade in Services. The two organizations have joined efforts to bring attention to the need for policy coherence between trade and health matters at global, regional and domestic levels. There is extensive collaboration between the two secretariats, in particular on issues relating to intellectual property, services , health and SPS measures and TBT.

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Intellectual property (TRIPS) 

The WTO Secretariat cooperates closely with the WHO on issues at the crossroads between public health and intellectual property. This includes participating as observer in the World Health Assembly and other WHO bodies, contributing to the implementation of the WHO's Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, as well as closely collaborating in the field of technical cooperation.

> More on TRIPS and public health

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Food safety and animal and plant health standards (SPS)  

FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission

The WTO's SPS Agreement states that “to harmonize sanitary and phytosanitary measures on as wide a basis as possible, Members shall base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations”. The Agreement names the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius as the relevant standard-setting organization for food

The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of international food standards that have been adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the “Codex”). The Codex is based in Rome and financed jointly by the FAO and the WHO.

> See more details in the SPS Training Module
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The Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), is a joint initiative of the WTO, World Bank, FAO, World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health. It aims to assist developing countries establish and implement SPS standards to ensure health protection and facilitate trade expansion. It also aims to act as a forum for coordination and information sharing on SPS-related technical assistance.

> STDF website

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Technical barriers to trade (TBT)  

Under both the TBT and SPS Agreements, taking regulatory action to protect health is a legitimate policy objective. In fact, of all draft trade measures notified to the WTO under the TBT Agreement, the largest single group relate to human health and safety. Hence, the WHO has an important role as observer in the TBT Committee and regularly attends its meetings. Moreover, Codex standards — mentioned above — can be used as a basis for trade measures covered by the TBT Agreement (e.g., labelling, nutrition and quality). The WTO has also followed relevant work in the WHO. For instance, during the negotiation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the WHO created an Inter-Agency Takes Force on Tobacco Control for greater coordination between negotiators at an early stage. The WTO, which has observer status in the WHO, followed the negotiations of the FCTC and was part of this task force.


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Services (GATS) 

International trade in health-related services, like all services, falls under the GATS. However, unless a Member has undertaken specific commitments, it is not subject to any market access or national treatment disciplines. To clarify the (potential) implications of such disciplines, the WTO Secretariat and the WHO have co-authored various publications in the past. Also, the WTO Secretariat participated in several seminars and conferences organized by the WHO

> More on GATS and health and social services