It's Philip Morris vs Uruguayan lungs, so why would governments be on #TeamPhilipMorris?

23 October 2014

You’re the government of a small South American country with a modest-sized health budget and you want to do what you can to encourage citizens to lead healthier, longer lives by dissuading them to give up smoking. Seeing the success that other countries have had with similar legislation (such as in the UK), you decide to increase the size of the health warnings on cigarette packets and clamp down on supposed ‘light’ brands. And then a huge tobacco multinational comes along and tries to sue you for millions for bringing in legislation that would harm their profits.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Uruguay, as reported in the Independent this week.

“The tobacco behemoth is taking its legal action under the terms of a bilateral trade agreement between Switzerland – where it relatively recently moved from the US – and Uruguay. The trade deal has at its heart a provision allowing Swiss multinationals the right to sue the Uruguayan people if they bring in legislation that will damage their profits.”

Cigarette packet - Philip Morris. TTIP can damage your democracyIt's disgusting to see a company like Philip Morris suing a government for trying to protect the public health by dissuading people from stopping smoking. Not only is Philip Morris trying to bully the Uruguayan government to change its position, it is draining public funds because of the expense for the government of fighting the case in court. It isn’t being sued in its own courts but by a set of corporate lawyers who don’t even have to set foot in the country, and that the government will have no chance of appeal and Uruguay’s citizens have no access to the panel’s records.

This isn’t a part of the TTIP trade agreement that ourselves and many others across Europe are fighting so hard to prevent. But it is an example of an “international-state dispute settlements” ISDS mechanism that would be much more prevalent if TTIP was passed.

This disturbing trend of companies suing governments that try to protect their citizens, their public services or the environment is going to get much worse if ISDS is brought in through the EU-USA trade deal. Phillip Morris is suing Uruguay for using the sort of anti-smoking legislation that has been in place in the UK for quite some time - it would undoubtedly try similar legislation against the UK if it was able to under TTIP. With actions like these, it's not surprising that there's such an enormous backlash against these mechanisms in both Europe and in countries like South Africa, Uruguay, Indonesia who have all said that they want to ditch ISDS in current and future treaties.

Surely our governments would want to stand up to the possibility of corporate power being wielded like this against the public good? Sadly, it seems like the opposite is true. The incoming president of the European Commissioner Juncker had been making some promising noises about leaving the ISDS out of TTIP. Shortly afterwards on October 21 Juncker received a letter from the Trade Ministers of 14 member states including the UK, pressuring him not to ditch ISDS, saying that “The Council mandate is clear in its inclusion of investor protection mechanisms in the TTIP negotiations.”

In a world of trade conflicts characterised by that of Uruguayan lungs vs Phillip Morris, it seems that our governments seem to be more interested in acting in the interests of Philip Morris, which is all the more reason why this dangerous, far-reaching trade deal needs to be nipped in the bud.

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