Trade Negotiators at the 16th Round of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Singapore continue to be dismissive of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the only global treaty that regulates a consumer product. Chief negotiators of the 11 countries at the stakeholder briefing held on 6 March 2013 evaded questions on tobacco and dismissing them as responsibilities of domestic health departments. The TPP is expected to contribute to overall economic growth but may have ignored WHO reports which estimate that over $100B annual economic costs result from tobacco related diseases in just four of 11 TPP countries, Canada, US, NZ and Australia.
Several questions on tobacco control raised by concerned health stakeholder groups received stock answers from the negotiators. Trade teams negotiating the TPP respond that FCTC is something Health Departments have been taking care of without any seeming obstacles and the TPP should not be hampered. Meanwhile, NZ has announced plans to introduce life-saving plain packaging measures but has postponed approval of the legislation, waiting for the outcome of the Australia’s plain packaging case at the WTO.
Dr Mary Assunta Policy Advisor to SEATCA asked negotiators what specific action were being undertaken in the TPP to ensure the governments are able to provide the necessary information to the public on harmful ingredients in accordance with Art 10.2 of the FCTC. Negotiators responded that the TPP does not look into regulation of tobacco which is handled by domestic agencies. Dr Assunta fears that in the past, free trade agreements have indiscriminately enhanced protection of trade information from public disclosure.
Negotiators were also asked what distinction can the TPP make to ensure that the tobacco industry is not treated like any other private industry. Parties to the FCTC are obligated to enforce a comprehensive ban in tobacco advertising including so called corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities of tobacco companies.
Whereas the TPP negotiators did not deny that there is a general move to encouraging private sector participation and support in the TPP. In 2011, the UN General Assembly explicitly declared, in the context of preventing the non communicable diseases that although private sector contribution and support is recognized generally, there is a fundamental conflict of interest with tobacco industry.
The New Zealand Medical Students Association expressed their concern given New Zealand’s “wait and see” position on plain packaging – and wanted to know what will be done to ensure that nothing in the TPP
will open doors to tobacco companies to bring additional action against NZ for introducing plain packaging. In answering the New Zealand negotiator assured stakeholders that it would be possible to “strike a balance” between commercial interests and safeguards for public health.
Ten of the eleven countries negotiating the TPP are Parties to the FCTC except for the US. The FCTC Article 2.2 says Parties entering into new agreements that may cover tobacco products, require that these be “compatible with their obligations under the Convention and its protocols.
However, the negotiators appeared unclear about the implementation of the FCTC and how tobacco control efforts could be undermined or hampered by this new free trade agreement. They are not well informed on the obligations of their commitments to the FCTC.
It is clear through the stakeholder briefing session that more effort needs to be put into bringing the trade teams up to mark with the obligations to the FCTC. It is a big concern that the details are being lost to the trade teams. Our message to the trade negotiators: “Do not ignore the FCTC.”