America's 'height of hypocrisy' on tobacco
A product so lethal doesn't deserve free-trade benefits.
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To end the tobacco bias in our trade agreements, the Obama administration and Congress should exclude tobacco from GATT and all future US bilateral and regional trade agreements. And when the White House asks Congress to renew its "fast-track" trade authority, if no exemption is included, Congress should make it a condition for new negotiating authority.Skip to next paragraph
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At the World Trade Organization, a US initiative should put tobacco beyond the reach of GATT rules and enforcement powers. And if the "Doha Round" of world trade talks revives in 2009, we should take similar action there.
But trade reform without parallel action on global health won't stem the spread of tobacco-related disease. Nor, welcome as it is will the largess of charities. They are up against an industry with $160 billion in revenues. We need to stop blocking efforts to control global tobacco and become their champion.
The centerpiece of the global effort is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world's first global public health treaty. While it was negotiated, the US joined tobacco exporters to weaken its terms; but when it was completed, President Bush never submitted it for ratification [Editor's note: The original version misstated the president’s response. It is not the president’s job to ratify treaties, the Senate does that.]. Obama should send the FCTC to Congress and the Senate should swiftly ratify it.
The US could seek a protocol giving precedence to FCTC obligations in the event of conflict with duties under other treaties, like GATT. We could push more robust language on demand reduction in the treaty, particularly on cigarette taxation, advertising, disclosure of ingredients, and other strategies used successfully.
President Reagan's surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, charged the US with "the height of hypocrisy" for aiding tobacco exporters while hectoring other governments to stop cocaine exports. We still do. Unless we reverse policy on tobacco exports, that indictment will stand.