Addiction Published Online: 5 Sep 2008
The alcohol field is becoming more aware of the consequences of world trade law for alcohol policies. However, there is a need for greater clarity about the different effects of trade on alcohol-related harm.
A comprehensive review of all literature on alcohol and world trade [including World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes on alcohol], supported by a more selective review of other relevant cases, academic reports and the grey literature on trade and health.
The burden of WTO law on alcohol policies depends upon the type of policy in question. Purely protectionist policies are likely to be struck down, which may lead to increases in alcohol-related harm. Partly protectionist and partly health-motivated policies are also at risk of being struck down. However, purely health-motivated policies are likely to be defended by the WTO—and to the extent that policy makers misunderstand this, they are needlessly avoiding effective ways of reducing alcohol-related harm.
WTO agreements contain genuine and substantial risks to alcohol policies, and various ways of minimizing future risks are suggested. However, the 'chilling effect' of mistakenly overestimating these constraints should be avoided. Health policy makers should decide on which policies to pursue based primarily on considerations of effectiveness, ethics and politics rather than legality. As long as any effect of these policies on trade is minimized, they are overwhelmingly likely to win any challenges at the WTO.
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