Two rather important things happened in the span of eleven days this year:
1. September 25, 2015: The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
2. October 5, 2015: An agreement was finally reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The SDGs are part of a global call to action for “people, planet, and prosperity.” The agenda of 17 goals with 169 targets begins with seemingly indisputable things like: “Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.”
The TPP is a trade agreement between 12 countries (with perhaps more in the future) that together, as a bloc, have a collective population of 800 million and are responsible for 40% of the world’s trade.
The SDG’s Goal 3 calls for action to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” It has specific targets like:
Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
That it will achieve in part through:
Support[ing] the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-comunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.
Proposed by U.S. negotiators, the IP rules enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.
On the face of it, it seems that the SDGs and the TPP have nothing in common. One advocates for improving health and health access for all. The other completely prevents it. One has no enforcement mechanism. The other one will have the weight of law.
But both, I would argue, have one thing in common: “experts” set and lead the agendas.
How are regular people supposed to meaningfully provide feedback about these high-level policy and international trade decisions? Especially if the decisions are made behind closed doors in Atlanta?
How are the thousands of people living in developing countries that will no longer be able to afford basic medicines, tell the negotiating partners of the TPP that they don’t support it? And maybe more to the point, will these partners even care?
Even the SDGs, even with all of its good intentions, fails to consult the very people it aims to help.
Rather ironically, its Goal 16 is to:
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Goal 16 asks that we :
Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance.
With Goal 16, the SDGs have feedback hardwired into their plans for the next 15 years. The question remains, though: how do we make sure the SDGs have teeth the way the TPP does? How do we make sure citizen voices are heard (and acted upon), and not just those of diplomats and pharmaceutical representatives?