Tobacco giant's call on law stirs up Greens

The Greens have stepped up their attack on a planned trans-Pacific free trade zone after tobacco giant Philip Morris called for the right to challenge anti-smoking laws.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman revealed yesterday a Philip Morris submission to the United States Government which insisted any deal must allow challenges to laws such as the regulation of cigarette packaging or bans on tobacco products.

The company is presently suing the Uruguay Government over a law requiring graphic warnings on smoking to cover 80 per cent of cigarette packs, saying it infringes trademark rights under a free-trade deal with Switzerland, where it has a base.

Mr Norman said the Philip Morris submission on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership showed it wanted similar powers under that deal.

"The real issue is about what they call beyond the border restrictions, which is about governments passing laws that restrict what corporations can do, like selling their cigarettes.

"Most New Zealanders will be shocked to learn ... Philip Morris is using trade agreements to try to stop governments from introducing anti-smoking measures. But it is true."

The TPP would expand the existing free trade zone covering New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile to include the US, Peru, Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia. New Zealand exporters are keen on the partnership and see it as a back door to a free trade deal with the US.

However, it has met staunch opposition from unions, human rights and other groups, which are promising strong protest action when the fourth round of negotiations starts in Auckland today.

Philip Morris' TPP submission raises specific concerns about Australian plans to require plain packaging for cigarettes and Singapore's broad scope to ban tobacco products. The New Zealand Government is also giving serious consideration to plain packaging.

Philip Morris says plain packaging expropriates its intellectual property rights, and it wants the TPP to include investor-state dispute processes allowing companies to take claims to bodies such as the World Trade Organisation.

Trade Minister Tim Groser is at climate talks in Mexico and could not be reached yesterday. Last month he told Parliament that fears the Government would sign away the right to make its own laws in any TPP deal were far-fetched. "We will look carefully at these provisions – they are not yet negotiated – and we will give an unqualified assurance to the New Zealand public that we will carefully safeguard the sovereignty of New Zealand to entertain good public policy in accordance with the principles of open government."

Philip Morris could not be contacted yesterday, but the company says in its submission that it opposes laws that restrict its right to trade, rather than those with a proven public health aim.

The Dominion Post