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EU releasing information on US trade treaty talks

| January 12, 2015

The European Commission last week published a number of documents setting out proposals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) it is negotiating with the US.

Negotiators had come under pressure from the public over the previously secret nature of the negotiations that many believe would cede even more power to multinational corporations and undermine democracy. Even under current trade rules governments appear powerless to collect equitable levels of taxes from some of the corporations operating on the territories seemingly under those governments’ control.

Protesters in the UK were attacked because it was claimed that they did not understand the treaty; so releasing more information about it should go some way to addressing that problem.

“I’m delighted that we can start the New Year by clearly demonstrating through our actions the commitment we made to greater transparency just over a month ago,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in a statement posted on a Commission website. “Today’s publication of our specific legal proposals in the context of TTIP marks another first in EU trade policy.”

The statement went on to say that the so-called ‘textual proposals’ being published set out the EU’s specific proposals for legal text that has been tabled in the proposed TTIP. ‘They set out actual language and binding commitments which the EU would like to see in the parts of the agreement covering regulatory and rules issues,’ it said. ‘The eight EU textual proposals cover competition, food safety and animal and plant health, customs issues, technical barriers to trade, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and government-to-government dispute settlement (GGDS, not to be confused with ISDS). Today, the Commission has also published TTIP position papers explaining the EU’s approach on engineering, vehicles, and sustainable development, bringing the total number of position papers it has made public up to 15.’

The Commission reference to ISDS, or Investor-state Dispute Settlements, was presumably made to assuage the fears of those who believe that these instruments are used, for instance, by large corporations to force governments of small nations to act in ways that the corporations see as being not detrimental to their businesses but the governments see as undermining health or environmental policies.

‘To make the online documents more accessible to the non-expert, the Commission is also publishing a ‘Reader’s Guide’, explaining what each text means,’ the statement said. ‘It is also issuing a glossary of terms and acronyms, and a series of factsheets setting out in plain language what is at stake in each chapter of TTIP and what the EU’s aims are in each area.’

“I’m particularly pleased that we’re including explanations in non-technical language to go alongside the legal texts,” said Malmström. “It’s important that everyone can see and understand what we’re proposing in TTIP and – just as importantly – what we’re not.”

‘Although today’s publication is the first time the Commission has published specific EU legal proposals while negotiating a bilateral trade agreement, it has already posted numerous documents online setting out its position in TTIP on a wide range of issues,’ the statement said. ‘In line with its determination to make EU trade policy more transparent, the Commission intends to publish further texts and proposals in the course of the negotiations, as they become available.’

The following is a link to the texts published today:

Most Iranians disapprove of hookah smoking

| January 12, 2015

A survey has indicated that 67 percent of Iranians would support a ban on hookah smoking in coffee houses, according to a Tehran Times story quoting a Hamshahrionline report.

The study by the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research was conducted in December among smokers and non-smokers more than 18 years of age living in both rural and urban areas across the country. The margin of error was said to be 5.3 percent.

About 13 percent of the respondents said they had smoked flavored hookah and 14 percent reported having smoked cigarettes during the month prior to the study’s being conducted.

More than 71 percent of the participants believed that hookah smoking was more harmful to health than was cigarette smoking.

And 86 percent of the respondents disapproved of hookah smoking. Women were more disapproving than were men, and villagers were more disapproving than were city people.

Sales down in France but it could have been worse

| January 12, 2015

Volume sales of cigarettes in France dropped by 5.3 percent last year, according to a story in La Tribune citing initial figures from the tobacconists’ federation.

Volume sales of cigars and cigarillos fell by 4.1 percent, while those of fine-cut tobacco went down 3.0 percent.

Cigarette sales did not fall as sharply as they had in 2013, when they decreased by 7.6 percent to 47.5 billion.

Nevertheless, tobacconists will feel relieved that the prices of cigarettes did not increase at the beginning of this year, as had been expected.

Towards the end of last year, French MPs voted down a tax rise that was to have been imposed automatically from January 1.

The change of heart by the National Assembly came after intense lobbying by tobacconists and manufacturers and required an amendment to the law. Socialist MP Razzy Hammadi said that if the increase had been applied it would have widened the price gap between French cigarettes and those in neighbouring EU states, which would have encouraged more smokers to buy abroad.

As things stand, the cheapest packs of 20 cigarettes retail for €6.50 each, while more expensive brands retail for about €7.00.

Tobacco attracting new growers in Zimbabwe

| January 12, 2015

Sixteen thousand four hundred farmers registered with Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) to grow tobacco for the first time during the 2014/ 15 season, according to a story in The Herald quoting TIMB figures.

This influx of new growers meant that, by January 2, 87,852 farmers had registered to grow tobacco, up from 86,006 the previous year.

Zimbabwe expects to produce about 220 million kg of tobacco during the current season.

Production to be restarted at Nepal’s Janakpur plant

| January 9, 2015

Nepal’s Minister for Industry, Mahesh Basnet, has said that preparations have been made for resuming production at the Janakpur Cigarette Factory, according to a story in My Republica quoting a National News Agency report.

Basnet said the factory would resume operations soon ‘with the consent of the people’, which was possibly in part at least a references to the former factory workers who were in a long-running dispute over compensation.

The factory, which was established in 1965 with the support of the Russian government, has been closed for about three years.

It used to manufacture popular brands of cigarettes such as Yak, Gaida and Deurali.

However, with the entry of Surya Tobacco into the market, its near monopoly ended and it started incurring losses. By the end of 2010/11, the company had a cumulative loss of Rs170.80 million. The factory cited the use of obsolete machines as one of the reasons leading to its collapse.

But other factors were said to include unnecessary political intervention in the factory’s operation and the appointment of its chief, and general overstaffing.

Now, according to Basnet, the factory’s management is being privatized. The management would be handed over to the private sector but the lands and buildings would remain the property of the government, he said.

Call for doubling of cigarette tax in Hong Kong

| January 9, 2015

A Hong Kong-based anti-tobacco-smoking pressure group is calling on the government to double the tax it imposes on cigarettes in a bid to get more smokers to quit their habit, according to a story by Elizabeth Cheung for the South China Morning Post.

Doubling cigarette taxes would reportedly cause the price of these products to rise from about HK$55 to HK$93.

The Council on Smoking and Health, which is calling for the tax hike, believes the increase would cut the smoking rate from 10.7 percent of over 15-year-olds – about 650,000 people – to between 9.5 and 9.9 percent in one to two years.

Tobacco tax in the city was raised by 300 percent in 1983, which led to a 4.6 percent fall in the number of smokers over two years to 18.7 percent.

Cigarette tax has gone unchanged in 12 budgets since 1999, though there have been two huge increases during this period: 50 percent in 2009 and 41.5 percent in 2011.

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