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Trade minister tries to brush away TPPA fears

| March 18, 2015

Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb has described concerns raised by diverse groups about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) as a “scare campaign” that is “designed to frighten people about any sort of trade agreement”, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) story relayed by the TMA.

The agreement is being negotiated in secret by representatives of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam.

Medical doctors have previously raised concerns about the TPPA, saying that while the Australian government has stated it would not enter into an agreement that compromised public health, independent assessment of the implications for public health was severely limited by lack of transparency in the negotiations.

In an interview with the ABC, Robb said he had not made a decision on whether to support the inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS mechanism in the TPPA.

The ISDS mechanism would allow a corporation to sue a government if legislation affected the company’s profitability.

“We want provisions that mean that governments can take public health policy decisions or environmental decisions and not be subject to the ISDS, now that’s pretty straightforward,” he said.

But consumer group Choice and Australian food manufacturing company Dick Smith said the inclusion of an ISDS in the TPPA could see the Australian government sued over planned changes to food labeling laws.

Meanwhile, the Australian Industry (AI) Group is concerned that once the deal is signed it cannot be amended.

The AI Group has lobbied the government to have greater access to the negotiations. Robb maintains the government has held 1,000 consultations with groups including Choice, the AI Group and unions.

Expert says plain packs do not infringe trademarks

| March 18, 2015

A senior lecturer in law at City University London has said that the tobacco industry’s argument that standardized packaging legislation violates their trademark rights is not convincing, according to a story relayed by the TMA.

Writing in The Conversation, Enrico Bonadio, said manufacturers would still be able to distinguish their products from those of competitors because they would be allowed to display the brand name on the packs, albeit in a standardized font.

And he made the point that trademark registrations did not offer owners a ‘positive right’ to use the protected mark, but only a ‘negative right’ to prevent counterfeiters from copying it. That meant governments could introduce measures, such as standardized packaging, that prohibited or restricted owners’ use of trademarks on public interest grounds.

“That trademark registrations do not offer a right to use the sign also lends weight to the conclusion that plain packaging does not constitute a de facto expropriation of tobacco brands and does not expose the countries which adopt this measure to the risk of having to pay damages in compensation to tobacco producers under the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” Bonadio said.

Indian bidi workers fear industry could be wiped out

| March 18, 2015

Hundreds of bidi workers, bidi contractors and union members have held a massive protest against the Indian government’s ‘ban on tobacco products’, according to a story.

The protest, which included members of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions and of the All India Trade Union Congress, was held yesterday outside the District Collector’s office in Manipal, Karnataka.

The protesters were told by one speaker that, under the government’s plans, tobacco products would disappear completely by 2020, though it wasn’t clear whether this was a reference to the fact that the government is considering implementing Articles 17 and 18 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that aim to phase out tobacco cultivation by 2020.

Nevertheless, the speaker said that if the plan went ahead, the Prime Minister should arrange alternative jobs for bidi workers because their livelihood would be taken away.

It was estimated that one million people earned their living from the bidi industry.

The story is at:

Zimbabwe’s tobacco exports earn $200 million

| March 17, 2015

Zimbabwe has earned $211.9 million from tobacco sales thus far this year. China continues to be the leading importer after buying 19.3 million kg worth $166.7 million since the beginning of the marketing season. Zimbabwe exports Virginia tobacco to more than 50 countries on all but two continents.

South Africa ranks as the second-biggest importer of the golden leaf, after buying 3.5 million for $13.5 million at $3.77, according to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board. Mauritius, which bought 1.3 million kg worth $5.4 million at $4 per kg, ranks as the third-highest importer. Other top importers include Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Zimbabwe produced 216.2 million kg of Virginia tobacco in 2014.

U.K. passes cigarette-packaging law

| March 17, 2015

The U.K. House of Lords on March 16 approved a bill requiring cigarettes to be sold in standardized packaging.

The House of Commons on March 11 voted 367 to 113 in favor of the law, which passed through the House of Lords without a vote. Starting in May 2016, cigarettes must be sold in packages of the same shape, size and design, with the only difference between packages being the name of the brand and the graphic health warning displayed on the cartons. The U.K. is the third country to introduce plain-packaging legislation; Ireland introduced a similar bill earlier this month, and Australia implemented plain packaging in 2012.

While various health organizations have championed the legislation in the belief that standardized packaging will render cigarettes less appealing to smokers, particularly minors, tobacco companies—who fear a significant loss of profits once the law is implemented—have threatened legal action against the U.K. government. Opponents of plain packaging also point to the potential uptick in cigarette smuggling and illicit trade that could occur as a result.

Bill would increase age limit by one year each year

| March 17, 2015

The upper house of the state of Tasmania, Australia, is due to debate whether sales of cigarettes should be banned in the case of people born after 2000, according to a story by Daniel McCulloch for the Examiner.

Ivan Dean, a member of the Legislative Council, has introduced a private members bill that would amend the state’s Health Act to ban the sale of cigarettes to individuals born after 2000, starting in 2018.

The bill is scheduled to be debated on March 24.

In his story, which was relayed by the TMA, McCulloch described how tobacco company representatives had said that while they supported regulation on cigarette sales, they were against backing a generational smoking ban.

Imperial Tobacco Australia spokesperson Andrew Gregson said that Imperial had always supported sensible, practical and rational regulation, but the bill in question wasn’t any of those.

Tobacco products were purchased by adults exercising freedom of choice, but it was quite rightly illegal to sell them to minors.

Gregson warned that such a ban would increasingly push cigarette sales into illegal markets.

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