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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Abstract

ADLUNG, Rudolf  and  CARZANIGA, Antonia. Health services under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Bull World Health Organ [online]. 2001, vol.79, n.4, pp. 352-364. ISSN 0042-9686.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0042-96862001000400013.

The potential for trade in health services has expanded rapidly in recent decades. More efficient communication systems have helped to reduce distance-related barriers to trade; rising incomes and enhanced information have increased the mobility of patients; and internal cost pressures have led various governments to consider possibilities for increased private participation. As yet, however, health services have played only a modest role in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). It is possible that Members of the World Trade Organization have been discouraged from undertaking access commitments by the novelty of the Agreement, coordination problems between relevant agencies, widespread inexperience in concepts of services trade, a traditionally strong degree of government involvement in the health sector, and concerns about basic quality and social objectives. However, more than five years have passed since GATS entered into force, allowing hesitant administrations to familiarize themselves with its main elements and its operation in practice. The present paper is intended to contribute to this process. It provides an overview of the basic structure of GATS and of the patterns of current commitments in health services and of limitations frequently used in this context. The concluding section discusses possibilities of pursuing basic policy objectives in a more open environment and indicates issues that may have to be dealt with in current negotiations on services.

Keywords : Health services; Health services accessibility; Commerce; Telemedicine; Treaties; Public policy.

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