By Shahrul Azamin Abdullah

Setting the record straight on tobacco and TPPA

The Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers (CMTM) would like to clarify some misleading and incorrect information which were highlighted recently in some local dailies on the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control's (MCTC) protest against the inclusion of tobacco in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

We would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

Firstly, there is nothing in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) or its non-binding Guidelines that obligates any government to exclude tobacco as part of any preferential trade agreement, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

To say so, is completely untrue. In fact, Article 2(1) of the FCTC states that the Guidelines must be applied "in accordance with international law," which includes the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Indeed, the WHO had in 2010 adopted a Declaration at the 4th Conference of Parties meeting in Uruguay which recognised the need for FCTC parties to consider proposed tobacco control measures in light of their international trade and intellectual property obligation:

"[...] in the light of the provisions contained in Articles 7 and 8 of the TRIPS Agreement (The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and in the Doha Declaration, parties may adopt measures to protect public health, including regulating the exercise of intellectual property rights in accordance with national public health policies, provided that such measures are consistent with the TRIPS Agreement."

Secondly, it is important to recall that trade rules, including the WTO, in no way preclude legitimate public interest regulation, including domestic regulation on tobacco control that the government of Malaysia may wish to pursue, provided such policies are consistent with pre-existing international trade treaty obligations.

In fact, protections for non-discriminatory measures necessary to protect health have already been negotiated under the international trade rules of the GATT. Accordingly, there is no demonstrated need to negotiate exclusions in the context of the TPPA.

It should also be noted that leaders of the FCTC, such as Australia, do not see any purported contradiction - Australia applies zero import tariffs for the importation of tobacco products in its bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

Thirdly, excluding tobacco or treating tobacco products differently in the TPPA will only invite reciprocal exceptions, concessions and differential treatment for other products or regulations allegedly in pursuit of objectives like public health or environmental protection with the same flawed argumentation and assumptions that are being touted by the MCTC today with regard to tobacco.

Finally, rather than damage the trading system that is critical to the growth and development of Malaysia, the TPPA should build upon the existing balance of rights and obligations reflected in the multilateral trading system that has served the interests of commerce and legitimate public interests alike for many decades.

We hope the MCTC will discontinue this campaign of misinformation, and instead start offering honest and constructive assessments of Malaysia's obligations under the FCTC and international trade commitments.

About CMTM

The Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers (CMTM) was established as an industry organisation in 1980. The CMTM is registered as a company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act 1965.

CMTM was established by the three major cigarette manufacturers in Malaysia: British American Tobacco Malaysia Bhd, JT International Bhd and Philip Morris (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd. The CMTM's goals and objectives are to manage various issues of common interest and to act as a general source of information on the Malaysian tobacco industry.


SHAHRUL AZAMIN ABDULLAH is chief executive of the Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers.