May 23, 2001International Trade Law Threatens Public Health Measures to Control Tobacco
Canada is one of only three countries that failed to support measures to ensure the primacy of tobacco control over international trade.
Over seventy-five countries expressed unequivocal support for giving international tobacco control priority over liberalized trade in tobacco at the second round negotiations for a new international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. Canada was not among them. The second round of negotiations concluded in Geneva on May 4, 2001.
Weak wording had been proposed by the World Health Organization secretariat, with support from the World Trade Organization secretariat. The secretariat proposal would have, in effect, meant that free trade in tobacco would get priority over meaningful national and international measures to control tobacco.
ut member states were having none of it. Speaking through their own diplomats or those speaking for regional blocs of countries, no less than 78 countries went on record unequivocally favouring giving priority in international law to stronger tobacco control measures over liberalized tobacco trade. Countries that supported stronger tobacco control measures included 45 African countries, 10 countries of South-East Asia, 15 European Union countries, China, Jamaica, Latvia, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. Only three countries that spoke failed to give unqualified support for giving priority to tobacco control. Of these three, only the United States was unequivocally opposed to giving higher priority to public health. Russia’s position was equivocal, while Canada declined to pronounce on one side or the other, stating that it would study the issue further.
Information and analysis provided by the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a global non-governmental organization alliance of which Physicians for Smoke-Free Canada is a member, was key in helping member states decide on the importance of tobacco control over tobacco trade.
Indeed, South East Asia adopted exact wording proposed by the FCA. It was read into the record by the Thai delegation on behalf of all ten nations of the region.
An Introduction to International Trade Agreements and their impact on Public Measures to Reduce Tobacco Use (350k) (optional cover - 127k), prepared by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, formed part of the background information provided to delegates on the trade issue.
This publication, being officially released in Canada today, details just how trade agreements can be used to limit the effectiveness of public health measures to control tobacco, and proposes solutions to solve the problem.
“Experience in environmental protection has shown us that international trade law has been used to halt or reverse progress in environmental protection,” said Michelle Swenarchuk, a lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association and one of the report’s authors. “We do not want to see international trade law similarly used to subvert tobacco control measures,” she concluded.
“In building public health legislation that will withstand threats posed by international trade law, it is worth remembering that the best defence is a good offence,” said Neil Collishaw of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and another of the report’s authors. “Strong, comprehensive domestic tobacco control measures, coupled with a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that asserts the primacy of tobacco control over international trade considerations are what we need,” said Cynthia Callard, another of the report’s authors and Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
The third round of negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will take place in Geneva from November 22 to November 28. “We will be encouraging the Canadian government to get off the fence and join the majority of countries that favour giving national and international tobacco control primacy over international trade liberalization,” concluded Neil Collishaw.
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Print copies of this publication can be ordered by contacting Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada