A sweet deal for domestic industry: the political economy and framing of Vanuatu's sugar-sweetened beverage tax

Elliott, Lana M., Waqa, Gade D., Dalglish, Sarah L., and Topp, Stephanie M. (2023) A sweet deal for domestic industry: the political economy and framing of Vanuatu's sugar-sweetened beverage tax. BMJ Global Health, 8. e012025.

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Introduction: The Government of Vanuatu introduced an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in 2015. While lauded for its alignment with the WHO's Best Buys recommendations for addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), little is known about the tax's adoption process or whose interests it serves.

Methods: Using case study methodology, this study examined how and why Vanuatu's SSB tax was introduced. Policy documents, key informant interviews (n=33) and direct observations were analysed using theories of policy analysis, power analysis and postcolonial theory to map the policy's adoption, surrounding political economy and the ideas, interests and institutions that shaped the tax and its framing.

Results: The SSB tax emerged during a politically and economically unstable time in Vanuatu's history. The tax's links to the national health agenda were tenuous despite its ostensible framing as a way to combat NCDs. Rather, the tax was designed to respond to tightening economic and trade conditions. Spearheaded by several finance-focused bureaucrats, and with limited input from health personnel, the tax targeted less frequently consumed carbonated SSBs (which are mostly imported) without any revenue reinvestments into health. Driven by the desire to generate much-needed government revenue and instal domestic protections via selective implementation and carve-outs for local producers, the Vanuatu SSB tax did meet national objectives, just not the dual health and economic € win-win' projected by the NCD Best Buys.

Conclusion: Vanuatu's SSB tax adoption process reveals the limitations of decontextualised policy recommendations, such as the NCD Best Buys, whose framing may be overcome by local political realities. This research highlights the need for further political economy considerations in global health recommendations, since contextual forces and power dynamics are key to shaping both how and why policies are enacted and also whose interest they serve.

Item ID: 81062
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2059-7908
Keywords: diabetes, health policy, nutrition, prevention strategies, qualitative study
Copyright Information: © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023. This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2024 01:21
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4407 Policy and administration > 440706 Health policy @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280112 Expanding knowledge in the health sciences @ 100%
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