Once again, US complicit in Big Tobacco's manipulation of trade
Right now, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is leading closed-door negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And he’s pushing a proposal that would grant Big Tobacco the right to sue governments for passing laws that would protect the public from a deadly product that kills nearly 6 million people each year. Time and again, U.S. trade policy has played into the hands of an industry bent on reaping profits at the expense of public health. This strategy backfired on Big Tobacco before, propelling the international community’s passionate support of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) landmark global tobacco treaty in 2003. And it has the potential to do so once again if the U.S. public makes its voice heard.
TPP and Big Tobacco
The TPP is being driven by more than 600 lobbyists representing the interests of Big Business, including lobbyists for global tobacco associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as for global corporations such as Monsanto, Wal-Mart. As a result, the trade agreement will have devastating consequences for people around the Pacific Rim. For example, as it now stands, the TPP threatens to decrease people’s access to medicine, water down food-safety laws and undermine public health advances.
Disturbingly -- but not surprisingly -- the U.S. trade representative has caved to Philip Morris International’s lobbying, promoting the tobacco industry’s interests over the public interest. In particular, he is advancing a proposal that could enable Big Tobacco to sue countries implementing strong tobacco control measures, by claiming trade violations. If passed, the TPP will threaten governments’ sovereign rights to protect people from the tobacco industry’s deadly reach. It has the potential to turn back the clock on decades of hard-won progress secured through the global tobacco treaty.
1980s trade bullying leads to 2003 victory for public health
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) global tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003, is the world’s first public health and corporate accountability treaty. It is the most powerful tool available for governments to protect public health from global corporations like Philip Morris International.
Indeed, one of the reasons the global tobacco treaty was embraced so rapidly and with such strong safeguards was due to global backlash against U.S. trade policy in the 1980s.
At that time, Big Tobacco was ratcheting up its efforts to expand its markets in the Global South, and the U.S. trade representative forced open tobacco markets in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. The resulting aggressive advertising and marketing had a devastating impact on public health in these countries, driving up smoking rates for Japanese teens by 16 percent, to name just one example.
Because of such manipulation of international trade by Big Tobacco, assisted by the U.S., the global community was hungry for solutions. So when in 2003 Corporate Accountability International and its allies were joining countries such as Thailand to rally the global community to adopt the precedent-setting global tobacco treaty, numerous other Asian countries including the Philippines and Korea came out in ardent support. Although the U.S. threatened the adoption of the treaty, Corporate Accountability International and its allies organized countries to stand up to the United States. As a result the treaty was not only unanimously adopted, but it also became the most quickly ratified treaty in U.N. history.
Supporting Malaysia and its tobacco “carve-out,” halting “fast track”
Just as countries in the Global South rallied behind the global tobacco treaty in 2003, today countries most disproportionately impacted by the tobacco epidemic in the Pacific Rim are standing up to Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to exploit trade for profit.
With Corporate Accountability International’s support, the government of Malaysia recently put forward a proposal to protect countries against Big Tobacco’s efforts to coopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Malaysia’s tobacco “carve-out” would exclude tobacco from the agreement altogether, sheltering public health policy from the threat of tobacco industry litigation. Currently, Corporate Accountability International is actively supporting other countries to back Malaysia’s bold position.
The organization is also raising the visibility of the Fast Track bill. As the U.S. government seeks to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, it is threatening to “fast track” the proposal, which would require Congress to either accept or reject the trade deal categorically, with no chance to make amendments.
We’re rallying Congressional sponsorship of a letter (already signed by 170 members of Congress) calling on President Obama to stop Fast Track from moving forward.
Leaders across the country are supporting Corporate Accountability International’s rallying cry to protect people from tobacco industry interference in public health. From editorials in the New York Times to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ resolution opposing the TPP and supporting a tobacco carve-out, the call to President Obama to stop obstructing the ability of global governments to safeguard people is growing.
With your help, together we can protect the policy-making process from Big Tobacco’s narrow grip and save millions of lives.
Take action: Tell your member of Congress to oppose the TPP and fast-track today.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye