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Dr Gola speaks on GATS and the right to health

Dr Swati Gola contributed to 8th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law (PEPA/SIEL) this year. Dr Gola presented a paper examining the role of the public health exception in the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The conference took place at King’s College London on 30­­–31 May 2019 and brought together early career academics and more senior professionals working in the field of international economic law.

Amidst criticism that international trade law severely impedes human rights, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) has come under fire for including healthcare services within its ambit, as essential services such as health care are widely considered public goods. Against this backdrop, in her conference paper, Dr Gola explored whether the right to health can be used as an aid in the interpretation of the public health exception in GATS, so as to foster greater coherence between the GATS regime and international human rights law, which so far have been seen as competing legal frameworks. The paper argues that relying on the right to health in the interpretation of the public health exception will not only complement international trade in services, but also encourage further liberalisation of trade in the healthcare services sector.

Dr Gola’s conference paper is the second of two papers which explore the relationship between the GATS and the human right to health. The first paper explores the normative relationship between the two legal regimes. It argues that even though there is no legal conflict between the two legal frameworks, the potential for conflict does exists. This is so because once health care services are fully liberalised, any subsequent restrictions may be challenged as a violation of GATS obligations, even if they are meant to implement the right to health. However, the second paper argues that any such violation may be justified pursuant to the public health exception in GATS.

Date: 30 July 2019