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Tobacco Control and International Trade in Africa

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Note: From the American Cancer Society’s Blog, The Global Fight Against Cancer

Tobacco Control and International Trade in Africa” (August 8, 2011)

Representatives from 13 African countries learn new skills to fight the deadly tobacco trade

Nairobi, Kenya — The American Cancer Society organised an international trade and tobacco control workshop from July 26–28, in Kenya’s capital city. The three-day workshop convened lawyers specializing in international trade law, tobacco-control advocates, representatives from non-governmental organizations involved in international trade law issues in Africa, representatives of the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative and the United Nations Commission on International Trade as well as facilitators from Marquette University, the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and the Geneva-based Union for International Cancer Control.

Participants hailed from 13 countries in Africa including  Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo , Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria Senegal, South Africa, Togo,  and Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.

The workshop leaders presented sessions addressing three key topics:

  • The terms of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines
  • Basic legal and institutional features of the World Trade Organization (WTO), regional trade bodies specific to Africa and international investment agreements
  • Arguments made by the tobacco industry that draw on international trade and investment laws as well as the counterarguments that can be made by civil society

Participants discussed national and regional  economic blocs in Africa, namely the East African Community (EAC), the South African Development Community (SADC), the South African Customs Union, the Common Market for East and Central Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of West African States,  (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union, (WAEMU) as well as opportunities and challenges for tobacco control and economic integration by these blocs.

The participants also were introduced to the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and provisions within international investment agreements used by the tobacco industry to challenge tobacco control measures globally, and most recently in Africa in the run up to the 4th Conference of the Parties of the FCTC held in Uruguay in November 2010.

Workshop debates focused on concrete examples of the theory presented such as the legal challenge filed by Indonesia against the United States ban on clove cigarettes, complaints raised against bans on flavored tobacco products by Brazil and Canada at the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee and TRIPS Council at the WTO, as well as the complaint raised by Phillip Morris Asia under a bilateral investment treaty concerning Australia’s move to enact legislation to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. Discussions among the participants highlighted how health exceptions to the trade law concept of non-discrimination under the GATT, and flexibilities in the TRIPS, could be used to defend these challenges on health grounds.

The participants wrapped up three days of hard work by identifying further actions to move the agenda on tobacco control and trade forward.

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