Chapter 10: International trade policy and tobacco products under the Obama administration
Ever since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, administrations of the United States (US) – Democratic and Republican alike – have argued that binding WTO rules help to rationalise international commerce while still allowing WTO members sufficient ‘policy space’ to put in place measures designed to promote public health. Under President Obama, that longstanding assertion was put to an early and rigorous test. Less than a year after Obama signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) – a landmark achievement for the president that gave the federal government much greater ability to regulate the US tobacco industry – Indonesia launched a legal challenge, alleging that the Act violated WTO rules. That litigation prompted some officials within the administration to begin pushing for additional legal safeguards in order to ensure that tobacco control measures such as the Tobacco Control Act do not run into legal difficulties under trade agreements. Specifically, this effort arose in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the president’s signature trade initiative and the economic component of his ‘pivot’ to Asia. After contentious interagency deliberations, the White House signed off on a draft legal ‘safe harbour’ proposal for tobacco control regulations in the TPP that was unlike anything the United States had developed before in international trade policy. The reaction to the proposal from US tobacco companies, business associations and agricultural groups, has been intense.
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