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The Tobacco Wars: International Trade Disputes and Tobacco Control (Audio)

Speakers: The Honorable Carlos Gianelli Derois, Ambassador, Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Joshua Sharfstein, Former Principal Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Presider: Thomas J. Bollyky, Senior Fellow for Global Health, Economics, and Development, Council on Foreign Relations
June 21, 2012

Tobacco is reemerging as a polarizing issue in international trade. Over the last several years, tobacco products have been the subject of more disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO) than any other product. Investor-state arbitrations over cigarette labeling and packaging requirements are increasingly common and have ensnarled developed and developing countries alike. After the WTO's Appellate Body ruled that a U.S. ban on the sale of clove cigarettes violated international trade law, the Obama Administration announced earlier this year that it would seek to include a safe harbor for tobacco regulation in its latest trade talks, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That safe harbor proposal remains stalled amid Congressional hearings and industry consultations.

Ambassador Carlos Gianelli Derois, Ambassador of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, and Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Former Principal Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, discuss the challenges that governments face in balancing international trade and tobacco control objectives and the increasing number of trade disputes involving tobacco control that have arisen under bilateral investment treaties (BIT) and at the WTO.

Highlights of their discussions include:

  • Dr. Sharfstein on the urgency of reducing tobacco consumption internationally, the effectiveness of tobacco control interventions, and the challenges of reconciling international trade rules with the realities of public health policymaking on tobacco (22:32-31:40)

  • Ambassador Gianelli on the potential for international trade disputes to be used to intimidate developing countries with limited funding and international trade law expertise (42:46-47:26)

  • Dr. Sharfstein on whether the challenges that are happening with trade and tobacco are likely to also occur with other products such as high-sugar food and beverages (48:57-50:24)

This meeting is part of the Global Health, Economics, and Development Roundtable Series, which provides a forum for U.S. policymakers, academics, and other prominent experts to evaluate the most pressing health and development challenges afflicting low- and middle-income countries. The series explores best practices and potential solutions from the field's leading thinkers and serves to educate and engage CFR's influential membership.


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