In Asia-Pacific, over the last few decades, countries have focused on improving their healthcare sector and have been trying to achieve the targets set by SDG 3 – Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Wellbeing for All at All Ages, and SDG 17 – Partnership for the Goals. Yet there are still considerable gaps across the countries, in terms of access to healthcare services and per capita healthcare expenditure. The different levels of development among countries and across sub-regions have resulted in a fragmented marketplace, infrastructure gaps in developing and least developed countries (LDCs), limited government funding, multiple regulatory regimes and standards, limited public-private partnerships and shortages of key healthcare products and personnel - some of these issues can be addressed through trade, cross-border investment and collaborations.
In this context, the paper analyses the coverage and commitments in the health sector in existing regional and bilateral trade agreements, frameworks, forums and other arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. It also aims to understand the current status of regional and bilateral cooperation in the health sector in the region.
The paper found that the coverage of the health sector, both products and services, in the existing regional and bilateral trade agreements, and other arrangements across Asia-Pacific countries, is limited. Developing countries and LDCs, especially, have high tariffs while developed countries have rigid standards and requirements, which restrict trade flow. There are limited commitments in healthcare in the trade agreements and limited private sector engagements. Certain facilitating measures like regulatory cooperation and mutual recognition agreements are few and even if they are signed, these are not implemented in a time-bound manner. The COVID-19 pandemic brought forth various new challenges, like sporadic bans, export restrictions of critical COVID-19 equipment, supply chain disruption and data sharing related regulatory issues.
Government-to-government sharing of information, best practices and regulatory cooperation and multi-stakeholder engagements and collaborations across multiple platforms, can enhance trade, investment and cooperation in this sector, and support the developing countries and LDCs in meeting their SDG goals. The paper presents policy recommendations for Asia-Pacific member countries to leverage existing trade and other arrangements to facilitate trade and investment flows and have mutually beneficial collaborations.