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SGMA President Calls for Reduced Trade Barriers to Promote Global Health

Date: 9/21/11

Cove Spoke on World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) Panel During World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum in Geneva, Switzerland

SILVER SPRING, MD – September 21, 2011 – SGMA President Tom Cove today urged the global community to lower trade barriers on sports products in order to reduce chronic diseases brought on by obesity and sedentary lifestyles.  The remarks were presented during the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry session, Made in the World and Value-Added Trade, at the WTO Public Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. The panel discussion was moderated by WFSGI General Secretary Robbert DeKock.  It included presentations by Frank Dassler, General Counsel, adidas Group; Yi-fu Lin, Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Chinese Taipei to the WTO; and Edwin Vermulst, Trade Counsel, WFSGI.

Below are Cove’s prepared remarks from earlier today, entitled Access to Sports Is an Important Component of Global Health Promotion.

“Improving global health is a huge challenge facing the world community.  Earlier this week, the United Nations met to chart a course to reverse the alarming trend in non-communicable diseases (NCD) like heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.  Non-communicable diseases are now the number one killer, accounting for over 63% of deaths worldwide.  This marked only the second time in the history of the United Nations that the UN General Assembly met with heads of state and government to discuss an emerging health issue with a major socio-economic impact. 

NCDs do not discriminate.  This health crisis affects young and old, rich and poor, women and men from developed and developing economies. 

Much of the rise in chronic disease and NCDs is linked to increases in obesity and sedentary lifestyles.   The incidence of NCDs is higher among the sedentary population, and significantly higher among the obese.   Physical inactivity alone is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be the fourth leading cause of death globally.  In the United States, the obesity rate has risen over 400% in the past 50 years and it continues to climb.  Similar trends are evident in many other countries.  In 2008, 1.5 billion adults age 20 and older were overweight.  Our young people are also at risk.  In 2010, 43 million children under the age of five were overweight.  Every one of these is at high risk of suffering chronic disease in his or her lifetime.  Compounding the problem is the fact that NCDs are commonly of long duration and slow in their progression, which drains the limited resources of national economies and drives down quality of life.     It’s been estimated that people being overweight and obese costs the U.S. economy $270 billion every year.  In many countries today, government spending on health care is on an unsustainable trajectory.  Health care costs are skyrocketing while revenues are stretched to the limit.  Looking forward, health and wellness promotion must be emphasized to minimize the need for expensive treatment of illness. 

There is hope because NCDs are preventable.  We know there are specific ways, some very cost-effective and accessible, to reduce the incidence of chronic disease.   Just as many nations have reduced the incidence of challenging illnesses like malaria and tuberculosis, a focused and dedicated campaign to reduce chronic disease can be successful and reap huge dividends.  In particular, we know real, sustainable progress is achievable by getting people to be more physically active.  The World Health Organization has identified increased physical activity along with improved diet, reduced tobacco use, and lower alcohol abuse as the keys to reversing the increased incidence of NCDs.  The WHO’s report could not be more clear: 

“Prevention of these diseases through physical activity and healthy lifestyles, based on strong medical evidence, is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to tackle these problems and to support positive social development.”  (World Health Organization 2003)  

Further to the reference of positive social development, the benefits of activity go well beyond minimizing illness.  We know fit children make better learners.  There is a growing body of research showing the positive correlation of physical fitness and academic performance.   The old adage of a “Sound Body, Sound Mind” remains a foundation for educating young people.  And physical activity benefits every child.   It’s not about being a superstar athlete, but rather having the opportunity to experience the joy and values of sport for a lifetime.

This is where the nexus occurs between global health and our discussion today about appropriate trade policy.  Fundamentally, a fair, productive and sustainable trade regime supports the goal of global development for all citizens. A healthy population is imperative. Poor health has a far-reaching residual impact on the global economy.  Worker productivity, educational achievement and socio-economic advancement are all negatively impacted when individuals suffer from obesity and sedentary lifestyle-related diseases.  The combined impact of NCDs impedes developing and undeveloped economies from improving and providing a better life for their citizens.    Worker productivity and education are the cornerstones of sustained economic development.  Trade policy that encourages sports and fitness is a vehicle to improve both.  

We need trade policy that supports global health promotion strategies.   Specifically, we believe policies that open markets and facilitate the worldwide movement of sporting goods can make a difference by encouraging physical activity.   

Very often, improving health means changing behavior.  The sporting goods industry has much to contribute in this global challenge.  Sports product innovations and marketing campaigns can inspire and motivate target audiences to adopt physically active, healthy lifestyles.  Think of in-line skates or snow boards, new inventions that generated new sport and recreation opportunities for millions of people.  Heart rate monitors allow individuals to monitor their workouts, providing real time feedback on what they need to do to optimize their effort.  The products don’t have to be sophisticated or expensive.  We’ve seen time and time again how bringing basic products like sport shoes and balls can invigorate and energize young people in a vulnerable community, whether located in an impoverished urban center or parched desert.  The key is to make products and activities accessible.  The personal fulfillment and enjoyment—fun!—that comes from sports participation can be a powerful influence to get people on the road to improved health.  Providing access to sports and recreation is good policy at several levels.  The global community needs to do more to ensure people have access to products that will encourage and increase physical activity worldwide.  By providing the means for more physically active lives, we can reduce the ravaging effects of chronic disease around the world.

Many sports and fitness activities require very basic tools.  Equipment at facilities can be used over and over to benefit an ever-increasing number of people.  Modern technology can be utilized to enhance the participation experience even further and attract additional people that would otherwise remain sedentary.  Modern sports equipment can be adapted to address the needs and interests of disabled people, many of whom are most at-risk for further chronic disease complications. As just one example, athletic footwear is now being developed to specifically meet the needs of those suffering from diabetes, with focus on helping improving circulation and reducing foot pain.  Trade barriers that make these products more expensive make no sense.

Despite the societal benefits of physical activity, countries continue to institute barriers in the form of import tariffs and anti-dumping duties that limit access to sports and fitness products and suppress participation in physical activities that improve health.

Just last year the WHO concluded, “An integrated approach to the causes of decreasing levels of physical activity will contribute to reducing the future burden of NCDs.”   We would like to see exactly such an integrated approach, by linking progressive trade policy to ongoing efforts to improve global health.  Ending restrictive trade regimes will facilitate the movement of sporting goods to a greater number of citizens and promote an active lifestyle and infrastructure in every country.  We should not allow any tariff structure that effectively serves as a barrier and denies access to products that promote health. 

There is little controversy within the global sporting goods industry regarding the universal  elimination of tariffs on sports equipment products.  The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry is on record strongly supporting the “Zero for Zero” proposal for sports equipment and a broadening of the scope to also include sporting footwear and apparel.  We look forward to the day when it can be enacted and implemented.   

There is much innovation across the globe to promote health.  Many nations, educational institutions, communities and employers have adopted creative policies and programs to promote health.  The health policies target families, schools, the workplace and leisure time for increased physical activity.  In some cases they help create and maintain the infrastructure needed for active lifestyles, others reward healthy behavior with financial incentives and some penalize unhealthy physical condition.  These are exciting and encouraging developments.

The sporting goods industry enthusiastically embraces the role it can play to promote global health by providing the means and motivation for physically active lifestyles.  In marketplaces throughout the world, we communicate the values and benefits of sports and fitness.  We welcome the obligation to work with governments and NGO’s to encourage citizens to engage in healthy physical activity.  And to this end, we endorse the goal of integrated global development, and believe trade policies that increase access to sports and fitness products will have a positive, universal impact on their own, and contribute to greater effectiveness of other efforts to improve health.      Increased access to products opens the door to activity; activity leads to improved health; improved health leads to higher worker productivity and improved educational performance; better productivity and education leads to a stronger economy.  A stronger economy allows countries to advance and better provide for their people.

WTO member nations can play a critical role in improving the worldwide economic and social environment going forward by adopting trade policies that will improve global health.   Trade barriers on sports and fitness equipment hinder progress toward a healthier population and need to be removed.”
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the #1 source for sport and fitness research, is the leading global trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry.  SGMA helps lead the sports and fitness industries by fostering participation through research, thought leadership, product promotion, and public policy.  More information about SGMA membership, SGMA Research, and SGMA's National Health Through Fitness Day can be found at www.SGMA.com.

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