Aims To review trade agreements, their relation to alcohol control policy and examine the role of the alcohol industry in supporting and attempting to influence trade policy.
Methods Review of peer review, public health advocacy literature (both pro and con on free trade), business, press and government documents on trade agreements, assess current and potential challenges by trade agreements to alcohol control policy and investigate the means and extent of industry influence in trade agreements.
Findings ‘Free’ trade agreements reduce trade barriers, increase competition, lower prices and promote alcohol consumption. However, international treaties, negotiated by free trade experts in close consultation with corporate lobbyists and without significant, if any, public health input, governments and corporations contain significant provisions that will result in increased alcohol consumption and may challenge public health measures of other nations as constraints on trade. Conversely, alcohol control measures seek to reduce access and consumption, raise prices and restrict advertising and product promotion. The prospect is for increased alcohol consumption and concomitant problems throughout the world.
Conclusions Trade agreements challenge effective alcohol control policies. The alcohol industry seeks to influence agreements and can be expected to work through trade agreements to reduce tariffs, increase market access and seek to restrict effective domestic regulations. Further research is needed on the impact of trade agreements and the ongoing role of the industry. Advocates must recognize the inherent conflicts between unbridled free trade and public health, work to exclude alcohol from trade agreements, counter industry influence and protect alcohol control policies.