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Trade deal dispute provisions need “reforming”

| March 23, 2015

The EU Commission has no intention of excluding Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions from the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) despite the fact that 97 percent of the 150,000 responses to a public consultation opposed them.

A story in The Parliament Magazine said the EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström had told a hearing in the European Parliament that the consultation was “not a referendum”.

She did concede, however, that the ISDS provisions needed “reforming”.

The commissioner was summoned before parliament’s international trade committee for a discussion on the ISDS mechanism, widely seen as the most controversial aspect of the free trade deal currently under negotiation with the US.

Many fear the inclusion of ISDS in the agreement will result in foreign companies endlessly suing EU governments for legislative actions.

Malmström said that 1,400 bilateral agreements signed by European governments had ISDS in some shape or form.

In the eyes of the Commission, this was a question of how, and not whether to include ISDS in the transatlantic deal.

The commissioner made specific suggestions, but was keen to emphasise that these were preliminary ideas to be discussed further.

Norway consults on standardized tobacco packaging

| March 23, 2015

The Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services has published a consultation paper proposing the introduction of standardized tobacco packaging, according to an EMBIN (Emerging Markets Business Information News) story.

The consultation paper discusses also measures to implement Norway’s obligations under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3, which aims to protect public health policy from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

UK accused of pursuing failing tobacco tax policy

| March 23, 2015

UK cigarette companies accused the government of pursuing a ‘failing tobacco tax policy’ after it used last week’s budget to continue imposing above-inflation duty increases, according to a story in The Times.

At the same time, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) claimed the government’s policies towards tobacco were boosting the market for illicit products.

“The illegal market cost the treasury £2.1 billion in 2013-14 and whilst we recognise the government’s commitment to a renewed anti-illicit tobacco strategy, further tax rises will simply undermine these efforts,” Giles Roca, the TMA’s director-general, was quoted as saying.

India expected to delay imposing larger warnings

| March 23, 2015

The Indian government will likely delay the implementation of its notification requiring tobacco products to carry graphic health warnings on 85 percent of the ‘pack surface’, according to a Times of India story relayed by the TMA.

The delay will apparently be used for greater interaction with stakeholders to ensure that the legislation is properly implemented.

The Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation had urged the Ministry of Health to delay the implementation so that it could hold more discussions with stakeholders and submit its ‘final and objective’ report.

The committee said it had received representations from MPs and tobacco-industry stakeholders who were against the proposed notification.

These people and organizations were concerned that it would have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of a large number of people.

The committee said it was it was of the firm opinion that all such concerns needed to be examined before the amendment notification was brought into force.

India’s current tobacco health warnings are required to occupy 40 percent of the ‘pack surface’.

Malawi’s Integrated Production System under attack

| March 20, 2015

Malawi’s Agricultural Parliamentary Committee is investigating complaints by tobacco farmers who are unhappy with an Integrated Production System (IPS) that they say the government has imposed on them, according to a story by the Nyasa Times.

And farmers aren’t the only ones who have reservations about the system. A paper on Tobacco Production and Market Review Policies by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, presented at the 2014 Tobacco Industry Annual Seminar, confirmed that the IPS had a number of problems.

The paper reportedly pointed out that the system lacked ‘transparency in loan portfolios’. For example, the tobacco buying companies were said to be free to charge farmers any level of interest on the value of farm inputs.

A farmer in Dowa was said to have told the Times that farmers were charged K30,000 for each bag of fertilizer that cost K16,000 on the open market.

One MP who is serving on the committee looking into the complaints, Nkhosa Kamwendo, said the system was just there “to steal from the farmers…”

Kamwendo said his job as an MP was to protect the people in his constituency who made their living from farming; so if those people were being ripped off he was failing in his duty.

New fund to help governments defend health policies

| March 20, 2015

Bloomberg Philanthropies (BPh) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) said on Wednesday they were creating a $4 million fund to help governments defend their tobacco control policies.

A Reuters report, relayed by the TMA, said the fund would be administered by the US-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

BPh and BMGF said countries with limited resources should not be bullied into making bad health policy choices.

In a briefing, Michael Bloomberg said the new fund would “help countries who are sued by the tobacco industry fight back in court and win”.

He said that while he supported capitalism and trade, the industry’s use of international trade agreements to prevent countries from passing tobacco control laws was unacceptable.

The issue, he added, was “about sovereignty and whether a country has the right to set its own public health policies”.

The initial investment is expected to grow as more donors join.

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