TPP threatens tobacco

For one of the few times in U.S. trade history, tobacco could be eliminated from a major federal trade agreement between the United States and foreign countries. Brandie Davis, director of U.S. affairs for Philip Morris International, said it is being debated whether tobacco and tobacco products will be included in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and eight Pacific nations. She spoke at the U.S. Tobacco Forum in Durham, N.C., June 14-15.

Davis noted that tobacco traditionally has been included in all free-trade agreements entered into by the United States; the one exception she could name is the trade agreement with Jordan signed in October 2000.

“Today, however, the game has changed a bit,” Davis noted. “We are facing a more urgent and growing threat to tobacco in trade agreements. Why? Continued tobacco-control advocates’ pressure on governments, an influx of money to support these efforts and an activist HHS/FDA [Health and Human Services/Food and Drug Administration] have contributed to this environment.”

Key Points

Tobacco could be excluded from TPP agreement.

Move would give other nations unfair trade advantage.

Ag community closes ranks to present united front.

North Carolina State University economist Blake Brown said expanding market access in countries in the TPP could increase U.S. sales of tobacco by $122 million and help create 3,400 new jobs.

In addition to the direct economic ramifications, Davis said TPP could become a model for future trade deals: If tobacco were left out of TPP, or if it were treated poorly, it would likely set a precedent in future trade negotiations.

The North Carolina Agribusiness Council notes that a bipartisan group of state and federal lawmakers including N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue, U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr, and the state’s entire congressional delegation, have sent letters to President Barack Obama’s administration urging that tobacco not be excluded from trade protections. Following the U.S. Tobacco Forum, the N.C. Agribusiness Council, the N.C. Farm Bureau and the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. issued a joint statement on the TPP process.

“The TPP is of vital importance to farm families in the United States,” the statement said. “These families deserve to be treated fairly, and it is critically important that the playing field be level so we can compete with foreign producers and protect farm jobs. We aren’t asking for special consideration.

We simply want to have tobacco treated the same way it has in past major agreements, including the Colombia, South Korea and Panama deals the Obama administration has championed. Carving out U.S. tobacco only aids competing countries like Brazil to have an unfair export advantage.”

The statement noted tobacco’s opponents hope to “break new ground” by undercutting tobacco in the TPP.

“Which other commodities could be targeted next if this dangerous precedent is established?” the statement continued. “A trade agreement of this magnitude should not be misused to advance narrow political agendas.

Jobs are at stake and North Carolina farm families need President Obama to make the right decision and continue the tradition of including tobacco and other agriculture commodities in all provisions of the TPP.”

Farm families could suffer

Graham Boyd, executive vice president for the Tobacco Growers Association of N.C., said it was clear tobacco opponents were pushing the policy to “punish big tobacco.” That tactic would ultimately fall short, he said. However, he acknowledged U.S. tobacco growers could be hurt in the process.

“The reality is that Marlboro or whatever recognizable brand you want to list is still going to be manufactured all around the globe and sold to adult consumers who choose to smoke,” Boyd said. “The concern we have is that those products will not have any opportunity to include U.S.-grown leaf. So at the end of the day, the thousands of American tobacco farm families are the economic losers, along with the many agribusinesses that support these farms with products and services.”

pressure on tobacco:
Some tobacco opponents would like to see tobacco left out of the Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement being considered by the United States and eight Pacific nations.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.