Infectious Disease Spread by International Trade - Global Trade Magazine
  January 4th, 2016 | Written by

Infectious Disease Spread by International Trade

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  • ASU professor: “The recent Ebola outbreak made us realize that we are just a plane ride away from exposure.”
  • The more trade grows, the more likely that diseases will be spread through trade, and the higher the cost of trade bans.
  • Beating trade-borne infectious disease requires partnership between rich countries and poor countries.

International trade and travel has opened up new vistas for humans, ranging from travel to exotic places to enjoying the products and services of distant lands.

But according to a researcher at Arizona State University, along with international trade and travel comes the risk of spreading infectious diseases, a growing problem in today’s global economy.

In a recently published paper, Charles Perrings, an ASU professor of environmental economics in the School of Life Sciences, describes the growth of international trade since the 1950s and the increasingly tight coupling of developed and developing economies. The paper considers how the global community currently deals with trade-related infectious disease risks of animals and plants, and asks how the system could be made more effective.

An example of the impact of an infectious disease came in 2001 in the UK when an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease cost some $10 billion and more than two million sheep and cattle had to be destroyed, Perrings said. More recently, African swine fever — a much more serious disease of pigs — has been spread in the Caucasus region through trade in pork, pork product or through waste in trade vehicles.

The recent Ebola outbreak made us realize that we are all just a plane ride away from exposure to emerging infectious diseases,” said Perrings. “The more trade grows as a proportion of global production, the more likely it is that diseases will be spread through trade, and the higher the economic cost of resulting trade bans.”

Perrings said current instruments to control infectious diseases are far from adequate. “There are two problems to address,” he said. “One is that disease spread is an unintended external effect of trade. To solve this problem, exporters and importers need to be confronted with the risks they impose on consumers. The other is that the control of infectious disease is a public good — the benefits it offers are freely available to all, and so will be undersupplied if left to the market. To solve this problem we need to undertake cooperative, collective control of infectious diseases at the source.”

Perrings said options for solving both problems include the use of payments for risk reduction in developing countries and the development of a global fund for infectious disease control.

At the moment countries have the right through the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement to act in their own defense once a disease has been introduced. Their options are to control the outbreak and to reduce the chance of reinfection by banning trade with risky countries or in risky products. But this cannot stop the emergence of new diseases.

“The One Health Initiative [a non-governmental organization] suggests that what is needed is cooperative collective action to reduce risk at the source,” Perrings said. “This requires a partnership between the rich countries that have the resources to fund global prevention, and the poor countries where disease is most likely to emerge. The management of infectious diseases of animals and plants, like the management of infectious diseases of people, is now a global problem that requires global solutions. This requires a more strongly coordinated and cooperative approach than is currently allowed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT] and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement.”


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