WHO concerned about 'alarming' death rate in Pacific
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says something has to be done in
the Pacific to tackle the alarming death rate from diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The WHO's Dr Temo Waqanivalu says up to 80 per cent of people in the Pacific die from one of these three diseases and it is primarily tobacco, alcohol and substance
abuse, obesity and poor diet that causes them
He says the World Health Organisation has noted that people are dying before their
retirement age so it is not only a health issue but an economic one as
Dr Waqanivalu has made the comments at a three-day health conference underway in the Northern Marianas, which aims to develop a five-year plan to prevent non-communicable diseases through educationand better health policies.
Funny how trade liberalisation in the Pacific means the dumping of food that is contributing to this alarming death rate in the Pacific.
Who Wants More Mutton Flaps?
Peoples Guide to PACER
The New Zealand government is trade policy is driven by its obsession with agriculture. Even where it already dominates a market, it demands new concessions or commitments that might create a precedent for demands of other countries. Equally, it wont accept below quality commitments that might be used to undermine NZs hard line approach with countries that really matter. The needs of those countries and their people are subordinated to NZís global trade strategy. Most stories about the PACER negotiations said NZ was less badly behaved than Australia. It is generally the opposite for Islands seeking to join the WTO. It seems likely that NZ will make similar demands if it gets to negotiate on free trade in agriculture under PACER. Tonga is currently applying to join the WTO. In April 2004, New Zealandís Trade Minister hailed the terms on which NZ had agreed to this as saving NZ exporters $6 million in tariffs. In revenue terms that means Tonga, which currently draws over 40% of government revenue from border duties, will need to make up a $6 million fall in revenue from somewhere. The options are user charges, broader sales tax or a consumption tax - in a country where 80% of the people are subsistence farmers whose cash income is largely from remittances. Reports suggest that similar demands are being made of Samoa in its WTO accession negotiations. Why, when Tongans and Samoans are already buying NZís products, even with the tariffs? Primarily, it is about creating precedents
But those precedents also have consequences. Around one third of New Zealandís meat exports into the Pacific are a fatty waste product known as mutton flaps. New Zealand supplies around one third of Tongaís imports. About one third of that is foodstuffs, including a large proportion of mutton flaps. According to trade theory, consumers will benefit by lower prices once tariffs are removed and people will by more of the product. Although experience suggests that the exporters and distributors tend to increase their prices almost back to the previous level, there are also sound development reasons for hoping that prices for mutton flaps from NZ wonít fall. A World Health Organisation report in 2001 drew explicit links between dependence on imported foods, especially mutton flaps, diet-related disease and trade liberalisation. It found that people were making conscious decisions to eat less healthy foods because they were cheap and available: One effect of globalisation has been to increase reliance on imported foods, rather than traditional foods. Imported high fat-content meats, especially corned beef, mutton flaps, and chicken parts, are among the main causes of the rising rates of noncommunicable diseases. Although educational programmes have increased awareness about healthy diets and nutritional foods, people in the Pacific nonetheless choose to consume less-healthy foods because of cost and availability (i.e. they make economically rational, but nutritionally detrimental decisions to consume certain foods). Thus, poor diet is not simply a health or health-education issue, it is also economicÖ.
Healthier low-fat Tongan sources of proteins, such as fish, generally cost between 15% and 50% more than either mutton flaps or imported chicken parts, and in many areas mutton flaps and imported poultry were more easily purchased than indigenous chicken. Not only are the health consequences of these imported foods detrimental, but the availability of these cheap imports is also constraining the development of domestic markets. Food security and balance of trade have long been of concern in the Pacific, but in Tonga the negative balance of trade is critical. Food imports are significant factors in both
It appears that the solution to diet-related non-communicable diseases in Tonga cannot be based solely on nutritional education. Both the problem and the solution appear to involve economics. One possible answer would be to follow the example of Fiji and ban the importation of fatty foods. Other policy alternatives would promote the development of sustainable indigenous fishing and farming industries that could make the preferred and healthier traditional foods readily available at a reduced cost. However both these solution could run afoul of the GATT and WTO [and therefore PACER]Ö It behoves national policy-makers to be aware of the health impact of ìcommodities of doubtful benefitî, and of the role of trade in the health of the population.î [Abridged from M Evans et al, (2001) Globalization, diet and health: an example from Tongaí, 79 (9) Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 856] Tonga has urged the NZ government to end mutton flap exports and encourage a return to healthier traditional diets, such as fish, organic chicken and taro that simply canít compete in Tongaís small domestic market. There is no sign of that happening. When questioned about this, NZ Samoan MP Taito Phillip Field said NZ would not interfere...with what Tongan business people decide to buy into Tonga.î Fiji, a WTO Member, has imposed a ban on mutton flaps, claiming there are proven links to obesity. New Zealand threatened retaliation at the WTO, but has backed off doing so. It would be interesting to know whether it fears losing the case - or fears being exposed to accusations that it knowingly dumps unhealthy waste products on the Pacific Islands. People might also ask why NZAID bothers to fund health education programmes in Pacific Islands such as Tonga.