Our Health and Free Trade: Tobacco and TPP

As we near the end of 2014, it looks as if we will conclude yet another year without having finalized the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations. Nevertheless, the negotiations are still moving along slowly. Negotiators are scheduled to meet this month. One top issue pertains to tobacco.

This is a case in which international trade and public health clash. How would you balance: 1) measures designed to protect citizens’ health, 2) the interest in expanding business opportunities to other markets and 3) the need to enforce global trade rules, i.e., not violate World Trade Organization trade rules?

Cigarette Butt hin255

The next round of TPP negotiations between 12 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region are scheduled for October 25th in Sydney, Australia. According to bilaterals.org, the United States does not plan on putting forth a new tobacco proposal although its August 2013 proposal sparked a backlash.

The most recent U.S. tobacco proposal includes the following:

• The TPP agreement will, like other trade agreements, contain a general exception for matters necessary to protect human life or health. We will propose including a provision indicating that the TPP Parties understand that general exception applies to tobacco health measures.

• We will also propose adding a provision requiring that before a Party initiates a challenge through TPP dispute settlement to another Party’s tobacco regulatory measure, the health authorities of the concerned Parties shall meet to discuss the measure. These two elements work together to preserve the right to regulate tobacco products domestically.

• Finally, the market access element of the proposal will remain unchanged, consistent with long-standing trade and agriculture policy. As we do for other products, we will continue to press for the elimination of tariffs on U.S. agriculture exports, which, by their very nature, discriminate against American farmers.

Here are some issues that have arisen during the discussions surrounding including tobacco in the TPP negotiations:

  • Whether or not tobacco regulations should be exempt altogether from trade rules so that regulations put in place to protect public health are not labeled as non-tariff barriers to trade or a form of protectionism, both of which violate the rules established under the WTO (Malaysia, one of the TPP countries, continues to push for a complete exemption for tobacco from the TPP as it seeks to enact World Health Organization measures on tobacco control.) 
  • The concern that countries will use strict tobacco policies and regulations for the purpose of discriminating against and restricting the entry of foreign tobacco products to protect domestic tobacco producers instead of public health
  • The degree to which last year’s proposal by the United States will result in the ability of tobacco companies to use trade rules to challenge another country’s tobacco policies and regulations designed to protect public health

Since scientific studies have shown the harmful effects of tobacco, it is difficult to argue, in this case, that the need to protect human health are exaggerated and outright false. Many countries, including the United States, have taken serious domestic measures to limit the sale of tobacco, regulate advertising and encourage transparency about the health risks associated with the use of tobacco. Therefore, it is not just a question of tobacco control measures designed to protect domestic producers from foreign competition, as we may see in some cases in other industries. Rather, there is a human health component that must be taken into account even within the free trade framework.

What do you think?


**Photo courtesty of hin255/freedigitalphotos.net 


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About Dr. Sarita D. Jackson

is the President and CEO of the Global Research Institute of International Trade, a think-tank/consulting firm that examines trade policies and their impact on domestic businesses. Prior to heading GRIIT, Dr. Jackson was a tenured associate professor of political science in North Carolina and worked as a trade policy consultant for an Arlington-based consulting firm. She has participated in trade policy projects and conducted research on free trade negotiations in Botswana, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. Dr. Jackson has also traveled to Chile and Argentina to study their political systems and economic integration policies.
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3 Responses to Our Health and Free Trade: Tobacco and TPP

  1. Kim Smith says:

    There is a Western media bias against international health news, UNLESS it’s dramatic, such as Ebola. But what’s sad is that 500,000 people worldwide will die from the flu in 2014, according to the WHO. We could cut these deaths if more people got flu shots. 8.2 million died from cancer in 2012, the latest figures available. 70-percent of those cancer deaths were linked to lung cancer stemming from tobacco use. These deaths could be cut too if more people stopped using tobacco. But what’s getting the attention of Western media? Ebola. Ebola is a hot news item and should be. But its deaths don’t compare with what the flu and tobacco have done. The media don’t tell us what to think but it tells us what to think about, said communications scholar Max McCombs. Perhaps we need to have some balance in the reporting.

  2. gillian4617 says:

    And this is what I consider beneficial information. Continue the good work.

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