Appeal of Trade Pact Ruling Necessary First Step
Statement of Todd Tucker, Research Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
Public Citizen commends the Obama administration for taking the necessary step of appealing the harmful World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against U.S. efforts to reduce teen smoking.
In September 2011, a WTO panel ruled that the U.S. ban on flavored cigarettes – which are used to entice teens into smoking through cola, strawberry and clove flavors – violated WTO rules because one of these flavors (clove) is predominantly found in imports from Indonesia, another WTO member.
It would pose an unacceptable barrier to public health if any time a good is imported it has to be excluded from regulation, so this appeal is necessary both to defend the law and discourage further WTO attacks on consumer protection policies.
Corporate interests have been relentless in attacking anti-smoking measures, which took a giant leap forward with the signing into law of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA). The flavored cigarette ban was a key plank of the FSPTCA, which envisions a possible future ban on other flavored cigarettes such as menthols. One of the other major planks of the FSPTCA – enhanced warning labels – is currently being attacked by tobacco companies in federal courts. The legitimacy of the WTO is likely to be further undermined if the agency’s Appellate Body upholds the lower panel ruling.
Consumer and public health groups will see that their policy priorities are being undermined by industry in domestic courts when there is a U.S. law basis for a claim, and in the WTO when there is not. The combined effect is fatal to the viability of public interest regulation.
The Obama administration is considering expanding some of these anti-consumer rules in the first trade deal it is negotiating – the nine-nation Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. The WTO ruling (and two others in 2011 against country-of-origin labels on meat and dolphin-safe labels on tuna) shows that a new approach to trade policy is needed – one that puts consumers, the environment and communities first.