The global fight against trans-fat: the potential role of international trade and law

Andrea Parziale, Gorik Ooms*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Non-communicable diseases in general and cardiovascular diseases in particular are a leading cause of death globally. Trans-fat consumption is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The World Health Organization's 'REPLACE' action package of 2018 aims to eliminate it completely in the global food supply by 2023. Legislative and other regulatory actions (i.e., banning trans-fat) are considered as effective means to achieve such a goal. Both wealthier and poorer countries are taking or considering action, as shown by the United States food regulations and Cambodian draft food legislation discussed in this paper. This paper reviews these actions and examines public and private stakeholders' incentives to increase health-protecting or health-promoting standards and regulations at home and abroad, setting the ground for further research on the topic. It focuses on the potential of trade incentives as a potential driver of a 'race to the top'. While it has been documented that powerful countries use international trade instruments to weaken other countries' national regulations, at times these powerful countries may also be interested in more stringent regulations abroad to protect their exports from competition from third countries with less stringent regulations. This article explores practical and principled considerations on how such a dynamic may spread trans-fat restrictions globally. It argues that trade dynamics and public health considerations within powerful countries may help to promote anti-trans-fat regulation globally but will not be sufficient and is ethically questionable. True international regulatory cooperation is needed and could be facilitated by the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, the paper highlights that international trade and investment law offers opportunities for anti-trans-fat policy diffusion globally.
Original languageEnglish
Article number46
Number of pages8
JournalGlobalization and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Commerce/legislation & jurisprudence
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • International Law
  • Noncommunicable Diseases/epidemiology
  • Trans Fatty Acids/adverse effects
  • International law
  • World Health Organization
  • trans-fat
  • International trade
  • Non-communicable diseases
  • Global health governance
  • Public health


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