A former ambassador to the World Trade Organisation has been lobbying Malaysia to oppose the Federal Government’s plain cigarette packaging laws.
ABC1’s Lateline can reveal former US ambassador Peter Allgeier met with a Malaysian government minister as part of his efforts to derail the plain packaging legislation.
It has also been revealed that a powerful US congressman has joined the fight against Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s latest controversial plan to cut Australia’s smoking rate, which is due to come into effect this year.
If the law is enforced, advertising will be replaced with dull olive green packages and large health warnings.
Mr Allgeier is the private face of the tobacco industry’s campaign against plain packaging.
For eight years he served as the Bush administration’s deputy trade representative, but now works at the Washington-based consultancy firm C&M International.
C&M International has a history of working with the tobacco industry. In 2000 they offered their services to British American Tobacco when the framework convention on tobacco control was being negotiated in the US.
C&M’s legal firm also has a long-term relationship with the largest American tobacco company, Philip Morris.
An email sent to a Malaysian official and obtained by Lateline shows Mr Allgeier has been lobbying Malaysia to put pressure on Australia over plain packaging, and refers to a meeting he had with Malaysia’s trade minister.
“There are several opportunities forthcoming for Malaysia and other like-minded governments to persuade Australia not to proceed,” he said.
“One option is to raise concerns in response to Australia’s notification to the WTO TBT Committee, which meets on June 15-16. A second option is to address this issue at the next WTO TRIPs Council meeting on June 7-8.
“A third option is to respond to Australia’s request for comment on its draft legislation, which is open for comment until June 6.”
Tobacco-Free Kids Campaign president Matthew Myers, who has been working with Republicans and Democrats in Washington to reduce tobacco use, has hit out at the revelations.
“It’s infuriating that the multi-national tobacco companies are trying to use their global political muscle to intimidate countries from protecting their citizens,” said Mr Myers, who has been an anti-smoking campaigner for 30 years.
“Peter Allgeier has a long history of working in ways to intimidate other countries to back down from tobacco control measures.
“He led the office of the United States trade representatives negotiations with Taiwan and Korea in the 1980s, including efforts to get those countries to back down on important marketing restrictions to kids.
“So this is nothing new and the firm he works for actually solicited the business of British and American Tobacco (BAT) when the framework convention on tobacco control was being negotiated, to try to get them to retain them to defeat tobacco control measures by using trade tactics.”
Mr Allgeiger turned down Lateline’s request for an interview. He would not say how many tobacco companies he is representing, nor how many countries he is lobbying.
When David Crow from British American Tobacco Australia was asked by Lateline if his company was paying corporate relations firms to lobby countries to put pressure on Australia to change plain packaging laws, he said: “We’re talking to loads of stakeholders right across the network and I’m sure it will include the World Trade Organisation, because the Australian Government also has to abide by its treaties on its global nature.”
“I think we’re approaching them personally from BAT to talk to relevant organisations and stakeholders – everybody, including the retail organisations,” he added.
The campaign against plain packaging also includes senior US congressmen.
In Mr Allgeier’s email he states: “Members of the US congress also have written to the Australian Government outlining concerns about the implications of plain packaging for the integrity of Australia’s trade commitments.”
One of those congressmen is Republican Donald Manzullo, who sits on the House of Representatives congress committee on foreign affairs.
He sent the Australian Government a letter criticising plain packaging, which states: “Not only does it violate Australia’s global trade obligations and undermine trademark protection, but it also has the negative effect of emboldening governments less committed to intellectual property right protection to dismiss global trade rules.”
Congressman Manzullo also argues it will have negative health consequences.
“Plain packaging legislation will likely lead to more counterfeit cigarettes, increase health risks of consumers, and contribute to the growth of illicit products,” he said.
“From both a regulatory and health angle, plain packaging creates unnecessary hazards.”
But Mr Myers from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says it is merely about “using global economic power”.
“The global economic power of a tobacco industry that always puts profit over health in an effort to intimidate the Australian Government. I hope they won’t fall for it,” he said.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the move shows tobacco companies believe plain packaging will reduce smoking.
“Big tobacco companies have made absolutely clear that they will challenge this. We know they will fight tooth and nail. You’re seeing that played out now across the nation,” she said.
“I think what big tobacco companies are doing with all this very noisy huffing and puffing is making clear to most of the community that this measure will work.”