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Trade deals ease health worker mobility — WTO

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A regional trade agreement between Japan and the Philippines gives Filipino nurses special working permits, with costs of recruitment covered by their Japanese employers. -- BW FILE PHOTO

PHILIPPINE trade deals that grant access to health workers in partner countries represent a “substantive commitment” to allow a measure of worker mobility in the health care sector, the World Trade Organization (WTO) said in a working paper.

“Trade in services could help address the concerns of the health sector by ensuring that health worker mobility can respond to worldwide demand,” according to the International Health Worker Mobility and Trade in Services report.

The paper is a joint research project by staff of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WTO.

A regional trade agreement between Japan and the Philippines is considered a “substantive commitment on health worker mobility,” as it gives Filipino nurses special working permits, with costs of recruitment covered by their Japanese employers.

The study said that international mobility of health workers has been accelerating over the last decade, with migrant doctors and nurses working in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries increasing by 60% over the period.

WTO members have used the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a treaty that extends the countries’ multilateral agreements to the service sector, to attract health workers which their countries require.




The agreement allows for temporary cross-border movement for service providers, not permanent migrants.

Global, regional, and bilateral services trade agreements have facilitated health worker mobility, and “demonstrated the ability to bring together a range of national interests” such as education, foreign affairs, health, labor, migration, and trade.

Agreements with Japan would for example include inter-agency educational programs to improve nursing competency through in-service training.

“As an illustration, the negotiation of IJEPA (Indonesia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement) was led by the Ministry of Trade and included participation from the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, the National Agency for the Protection and Placement for International Migrants, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Education,” the paper said.

A structured analysis of the health labor market, the paper said, can provide can address the needs of the economy of destination as well as the “brain drain” concerns of the country of origin.

“Health labor market analysis uses harmonized approaches to assess labor market trends in the health sector, including attention to production, employment and migration,” the paper said.

“It analyses the key factors influencing the domestic supply of and demand for health workers, and strengthens the ability to forecast and plan for current and future health workforce needs.”

WHO, the paper said, has introduced the health labor market analysis process in the design of a new generation of bilateral cooperation to understand the labor market and health needs of partner countries. — Jenina P. Ibañez









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