Tobacco “Carve-Out” Dispute Tells Us What We Need To Know About TPP

Dave Johnson

Administration officials are desperately trying to wrap-up Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in the next few days or so. If they can get it done right now, it enables a timeline for pushing it through Congress by the end of the year — before the public can rally opposition, and before the Presidential campaign season could bring heightened attention to the deal.

One key sticking point in the negotiations is a proposed “carve-out” to prevent tobacco companies from being able to sue governments and block anti-smoking regulations. The tobacco companies are trying to block this carve-out because it “sets a bad precedent” of allowing governments to protect their citizens.

This sounds astonishing, but it’s for real. Read on.

Corporate Courts Let Corporations Sue Governments And Block Laws And Regulations That Protect Citizens

“NAFTA-style” “trade” agreements contain Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow corporations to sue governments for passing laws and making regulations that might limit their expected profits. This includes environmental, health, consumer and other laws and regulations.

The corporations get to bring the complaints themselves, and the complaints are adjudicated by “corporate courts” consisting of corporate attorneys who on other days depend on these same corporations for their livelihood. Essentially, this means that local and national governments can no longer pass laws or make regulations that limit what corporations can do without risking the cost of defending themselves from an ISDS attack.

But, really, tobacco? As Mitt Romney would say, “tobacco corporations are corporations, too, my friend.” If corporations can sue governments for passing laws and making regulations limiting corporate profits, tobacco corporations can, too. So believe it or not, tobacco companies can sue and are suing governments that have signed onto these NAFTA-style “trade” deals — for trying to protect their citizens from the ravages of smoking.

Once again, these “trade” deals even let tobacco companies sue governments for trying to help citizens quit smoking and/or educating kids about smoking’s dangers.

And, one more time, the US is finishing up a “trade” agreement that is so bad that it even lets tobacco companies sue local, state and the federal government to stop them from educating kids to the dangers of smoking, and from having public health programs that help us quit smoking.

And that’s just what tobacco companies can do. But this isn’t just about tobacco companies. Trade deals like TPP also let other companies keep governments from trying to protect citizens from other dangerous products and practices, because laws and regulations that protect citizens reduce the profits of the corporations.

Seriously. So you can see why the corporations would want to get this rushed through Congress before people can rally opposition and do something about it.

And you can see the fact this is in a “trade” deal that our government is negotiating shows just how much the corporations dominate our “trade” negotiations. It also shows just how little concern the negotiators have for the sovereignty of our local, state, and national governments; the health and safety and security of our citizens; the strength of our democracy; and so much else. Corporate profits, baby, that’s where it is at. And that’s all it’s about, period.

Tobacco Is SO Bad

The thing is, tobacco is so bad — it kills more than 480,000 Americans each year — that if this is kept in TPP this risks tipping the public off about how bad the rest of TPP really is, too. So negotiators want to “carve out” tobacco from TPP’s ISDS provisions before they roll out the big campaign to push it through Congress.

Naturally tobacco companies want to be able to sue governments for doing things that limit their expected profits just like all the other corporations can. So they are putting on the pressure. Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce — same thing, actually — are all over the negotiators to treat tobacco companies just like any other corporations that make or do something that can hurt people. The Hill reports Friday, in, “McConnell warns Obama against tobacco carve-out in trade deal”:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is warning U.S. officials negotiating a massive trans-Pacific trade agreement for President Obama not to target tobacco growers in a final deal.

In a letter to Obama’s top trade representative, McConnell said singling out the tobacco industry would set a dangerous precedent for future trade deals.

For those who thought that stuff above about tobacco companies stopping governments from helping citizens to stop smoking couldn’t be for real, the report continues:

At issue is language that would exclude tobacco from the dispute settlement portion of the TPP. Dispute settlement rules allow private companies to bring lawsuits against governments if they feel legal protections provided by the trade agreement are not being met.

Labeling and packaging laws for cigarette packs are increasingly contentious worldwide; many countries have passed rules aimed at curbing smoking that can prevent cigarette manufacturers from putting their brands on their cigarettes. The laws are intended to ensure anti-smoking messages and graphic images highlighting the dangers of smoking dominate the packaging.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis is on this, too:

Tillis warned that a tobacco carveout in the TPP would set a dangerous precedent for discriminating against entire industries in future trade agreements.

“The current proposal in the TPP creates an entirely new precedent, a precedent that will no doubt become the norm for future trade agreements where the negotiators get to pick the winners and losers and American businesses will suffer as a result,” said Tillis. “Once we allow an entire sector to be treated unfairly in trade agreements, the question is, who’s next?”

Exactly, who’s next? Mining or fracking companies that want to dump toxins into our water? Companies that want to put toxic additives into gasoline? Companies that want to sell scam investments? Sure, why not?,

Corporations are corporations and they want what they want. The question is, are we ready to give up our ability to make them do what we want?

See also, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures

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