Gordon Campbell on tobacco politics, and the TPP death watch

Column – Gordon Campbell

Has Act leader David Seymour got the easiest job in the world, or what? Roll out of bed, turn on the radio and hmmthere do seem to be a lot of problems out there in the world. Must think of something. And so it came to pass that this morning , …

Gordon Campbell on tobacco politicking, and the TPP death watch

Has Act leader David Seymour got the easiest job in the world, or what? Roll out of bed, turn on the radio and hmm…there do seem to be a lot of problems out there in the world. Must think of something. And so it came to pass that this morning, David Seymour took up his sword and shield to fight for a world that’s about to be denied the rich and vibrant beauty of tobacco advertising. Avast ye hordes of faceless bureaucrats aiming to put tobacco products in plain packets! David Seymour is in the House! Plain packaging may save lives, but does it have to be such a dull way of saving lives?

Is there no other hero prepared to fight for Philip Morris, and for the God-given right of Benson and Hedges to peddle their deadly wares in luscious golden packaging? Do we want to live in a world without Marlboro Man billboards? There is a principle at stake here. And that principle is that if you’re an entrenched corporate making profits from peddling nicotine to losers, then David Seymour will be there to fearlessly lament the impediments to your maximization of that lethal trade, no matter what those spoilsports who just want to save lives may say, or do. Boringly.

Legalise e-cigarettes, Seymour says – even though the trade is dodgy, the level of nicotine content unpredictable, and the evidence they help people to quit is inconclusive here and only slightly more promising here.

There’s a clear need for further research before deciding on the health benefits of e-cigarettes. But promoting them sounds more exciting, right ? If you’ve ever watched the TV comedy series Silicon Valley you’ll recognize David Seymour’s fictional private sector counterpart : Bighead, the nice, clueless guy who keeps getting promoted and being ever more richly remunerated for reasons that have nothing to do with his limited abilities. In last week’s Budget for instance, further multi-millions of taxpayer funds were lavished on more charter schools – Seymour’s pet ideological project that seems immune to any rational cost/benefit analysis. It pays to be unconcerned about the workings of privilege.

On the wider issue of plain packaging….not much sign of the spirit of Anzac here. First, New Zealand waited on the sidelines to see if Australia’s brave initiative on plain packaging got taken out by the hired legal guns from Philip Morris. When Australia won that landmark case did we rush to emulate them? No, we’ve waited to see who else would make that move, first. The United Kingdom? It seems the coast is now getting clear for us to fearlessly follow suit.

But not just yet. There’s still a plain packaging challenge pending before the World Trade Organisation so Prime Minister John Key will not be rushing to pass laws on plain packaging. Not this year anyway. From David Seymour to John Key to the two former tobacco lobbyists in the National caucus, Big Tobacco has little to fear from New Zealand.

TPP Death Watch ?

Trouble, everywhere you look on the trade pact front…. Across continental Europe, the mooted Europe/US TTIP pact is already in deep trouble, and the TPP is also on the ropes. In Washington, the influential Politico website is betting that Barack Obama will be unable to get Congress to agree to even hold a vote von the TPP during the ‘lame duck’ session after the November election, much less get the pact passed. Incredibly, one of the major sticking points is the issue that so concerns Pharmac – namely, the length of the data exclusivity period agreed under the TPP for the very, very expensive “biologics” class of new medicines. Look closely at the wording of the Politico report:

Certainly a lot of people think it [the TPP] is dead. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch toes that line, saying he saw chances for Congress to vote on the proposed TPP agreement in the lame-duck session at no more than 50-50.

He said that’s partly because the White House seems unwilling to budge on his top concern: test data protection for biologics. “Well, we’ve had multiple meetings with the White House, and they don’t seem to be willing to go beyond the five years,” Hatch said. “It’s going to change or there’s not going to be any trade [agreement]. It’s just that simple.”

The TPP agreement allows countries to choose between two options for protecting biologics test data. The administration argues that both provide eight years of protection, but Hatch and the pharmaceutical industry believe that one of the options only provides five years of protection.

So, eight years is what the White House insists the term is. The Republicans, however, think the wording could well be five years and are baulking at that possibility. What do the Australians think it is?

In accordance with recent publicity surrounding Australia’s implementation of Articles 18.50 and 18.51 of the TPP, the Commission concludes that Australia is not required to change its current provisions in relation to data protection. In particular, the Commission states that Australia is not required to provide more than five years of exclusivity for data submitted for regulatory approval of a biologic, noting that the relevant TPP provision acknowledges that ‘biologics manufacturers rely on a suite of legal and market-based mechanisms to maintain a competitive advantage’

Five years. And New Zealand? Likewise. Here’s a recent legal opinion on the pharmaceutical data exclusivity term contained in the TPP:

The [TPP] Bill does not propose any changes to the five year data protection period[vii] provided for new pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. This is one area in which New Zealand stood its ground during TPP negotiations.

Does this sound like a healthy outlook for the TPP? Hardly. We have a White House insisting the relevant data protection period for Big Pharma is eight years, while the Republicans are saying five years would be a deal breaker….and yet New Zealand and Australia keep on touting five years as a badge of their TPP negotiating prowess!

Trade Minister Todd McClay should be able to tell us more. On his recent visit to Peru – according to this snippet from the US trade industry bible World Trade Online – McClay got briefed by US Trade Representative Mike Froman on the likely chances of the TPP getting through Congress later this year :

A Peruvian Embassy official confirmed on Wednesday that ministers from the 12 TPP countries will meet….in Arequipa, Peru, on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers meeting. The event will give U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman a chance to brief his counterparts on the outlook for congressional approval of the pact and hear the latest on their ratification processes.

More and more, the TPP looks like a dead man walking in 2016. And it would take an unlikely Democratic landslide in November to produce a majority in both Congress and the Senate – sufficient for President Hillary Clinton to pass the TPP, un-amended, in 2017.

Footnote : Big Pharma is not the only US lobby group currently weighing in over a Congressional TPP vote in November/December. Last Wednesday, the US National Retail Federation (NRF) came out in favour of the TPP, arguing that the mega-deal would benefit the public by lowering (or removing) U.S. tariffs on apparel imports from TPP countries, which can run as high as 32 per cent. This quickly sent a leading conservative US lobby group onto the counter-attack – with an interesting comparison between the labour conditions in some TPP member countries, and the slave economy in the South during the mid-19th century:

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement responding to a study by the National Retail Federation finding the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact will benefit U.S. retailers:

I’m sure using southern slave labor to produce cotton was a boon for northern clothing makers and their customers as it lowered costs. In the 19th century, New England textile mills were big buyers of southern cotton. Similarly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Malaysia, which had to be falsely re-categorized by the State Department as not a slave state in order to qualify to be a participant in the trade deal, and Vietnam and Brunei, which have horrendous records on human labor trafficking.

“So while it’s great that American retailers think that cheap goods built with slave wages are good for their business model, it is morally reprehensible. History will not look kindly upon those who turned a blind eye to these atrocities.

And furthermore, for good measure:

“It is little wonder why American workers who can’t find jobs think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a bad deal for them. The American people are fed up with the global trade agenda, and continue to reject candidates for president who defend the indefensible. This was reconfirmed in the Fox News West Virginia exit poll that found a full 67 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats agree that trade overseas is costing Americans their jobs here.”

The (real) world of work

The boring really can sometimes, be the enemy of the good. The Drive By Truckers for instance, came up with two endings to this same dead-end story of where dead-end jobs can leave you. Namely: dead, or savouring a deadly irony. Incidentally, the video stars Ray McKinnon, the preacher from Deadwood, and the writer/showrunner who is responsible for Rectify, arguably the finest television drama of the past decade.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgQV8BBAkqA&w=420&h=236]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SfNGSPZfMo&w=420&h=236]

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