Tobacco Proposal in Pacific Trade Talks Balanced: Froman

The U.S. Trade Representative said his agency’s proposal for tobacco regulation in Pacific-region trade talks “strikes the right balance” after anti-smoking groups criticized it for being too weak and U.S. business groups called it unnecessary.

The proposal shows balance in protecting the public health and ensuring that governments have the means to settle disputes, Michael Froman said today on a call with reporters as he was returning from Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Brunei.

The plan, which the U.S. trade agency unveiled Aug. 21, would let health agencies in the nations brokering the free-trade agreement control tobacco regulation. It would require that those authorities hold discussions before formally filing a trade complaint, if there is a dispute over a nation’s tobacco-related rules.

The U.S. proposal has created a flurry of controversy as the 12 nations working toward the accord seek an agreement by the end of the year.

The dispute provision and the regulatory exception “are weak half-measures at best that will not protect American law -- and the laws of other countries -- from being usurped by the tobacco industry,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote yesterday in an op-ed article in the New York Times. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

Tobacco Packaging

Philip Morris International Inc. has pressed the U.S. for language that would make it tougher for countries in a proposed Pacific Rim trade pact to require plain packaging or other limits on company logos.

Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers said language in trade agreements already includes measures to protect human health. The groups “oppose any effort to introduce any further qualification, clarification, or understanding with respect to tobacco or any other product in the TPP given the adverse implications,” they wrote in a letter to Froman yesterday.

The plan “illustrates a broad range of views,” Froman said.

In addition to the U.S., the nations working on the agreement are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.