Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Obama Sacrifices Public Health, Backs Big Tobacco in TPP Negotiations

The Obama administration, which has always proven to be a good friend of Big Pharma, is proving itself to be a good friend of Big Tobacco, too. The president may have--thankfully--broken his past bad personal habits, but not the embrace of Big Tobacco by the US government.

The administration has backed down from a proposal to protect public health from Big Tobacco in the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, often referred to as "NAFTA on steroids."

Action on Smoking and Health reported on the new developments:

The draft TPPA benefits tobacco companies with zero tariffs, expanded investor rights, and greater limits on regulation of tobacco advertising and other services,” said Robert Stumberg, director of the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown University Law Center. “The revised U.S. position inserts the word ‘tobacco’ without touching the benefits for tobacco companies.”

The tobacco industry has a long history of using trade agreements to attack public health measures aimed at reducing tobacco use. Last year, the United States lost its final appeal in a suit brought under World Trade Organization rules by Indonesia over a U.S. ban on flavored cigarettes, including candy flavors clearly aimed at children. The case was a wake-up call for the U.S. public health community about the dangers to tobacco regulations posed by a web of trade obligations.

The draft TPP will make it even easier for governments to be sued for their tobacco regulations. Unlike the WTO, corporations will have the right under the TPP to directly sue governments, without the need of a state sponsor. Similar suits have already been leveled against a number of countries, including Australia, Uruguay, Norway and Turkey.

In May 2012, the United States Trade Representative announced a draft “safe harbor” clause to protect tobacco measures under the TPP. While the legal impact of that draft was quite narrow, the public health community applauded it as a good starting point and urged the administration to propose it in the TPP negotiations. However, the reaction from industry and pro-tobacco politicians was loud, negative and sustained. After 15 months and eight negotiating rounds, the “safe harbor” had still not been proposed.
Here are some more details from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, especially regarding the ramifications:

The new USTR proposal does not recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product or provide a safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use, as the initial proposal would have done. The new proposal states the obvious – that tobacco control measures involve public health – and then directs public health officials from the countries that are party to the trade agreement to consult each other before launching tobacco-related trade challenges.

The end result is that the Obama Administration's strong commitment to reducing tobacco use in the United States will remain vulnerable to international trade challenges, and other trading partners will remain vulnerable to such challenges as well.

The tobacco industry and its allies in government increasingly use trade and investment agreements to challenge legitimate tobacco control measures.....Tobacco companies and several countries have filed trade challenges to Australia's law requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, while Philip Morris International has used an investment agreement to challenge Uruguay's tobacco control laws, including its requirement for large, graphic health warnings. These costly challenges are aimed not only at defeating tobacco control measures, but also at discouraging governments from enacting them in the first place.
I wrote about the Trans-Pacific Partnership back in June after the confirmation vote for Michael Froman for US Trade Representative, commending Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for their "no" votes. There's also a good piece up now on Truth-Out, entitled "NAFTA on Steroids: The Transpacific Partnership and Global Neoliberalism." 
  The White House has been fiercely secretive about the TPP negotiations, even more so than the Bush administration was with trade negotiations (which I note in the diary linked above). All of the information we've gained through leaks so far hasn't been pretty.

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