Home > #OWS, rant > International trade agreements and big money bullying #OWS

International trade agreements and big money bullying #OWS

December 13, 2013

The New York Times just put out an amazing and outrageous story, entitled Tobacco Industry Tactics Limit Poorer Nations’ Smoking Laws and written by Sabrina Tavernise.

In it she describes the bullying tactics of tobacco companies to small countries over their internal health regulations aiming to protect their citizenry from cancer. From the article:

In Africa, at least four countries — Namibia, Gabon, Togo and Uganda — have received warnings from the tobacco industry that their laws run afoul of international treaties, said Patricia Lambert, director of the international legal consortium at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

“They’re trying to intimidate everybody,” said Jonathan Liberman, director of the McCabe Center for Law and Cancer in Australia, which gives legal support to countries that have been challenged by tobacco companies. In Namibia, the tobacco industry has said that requiring large warning labels on cigarette packages violates its intellectual property rights and could fuel counterfeiting.

A few comments about this outrage, only tangentially mathematical:

  • This happens because, in order to protect companies from being taken over by foreign nations, and in the  name of free trade, it’s now possible for companies to sue countries directly. That’s what the tobacco industry is doing to small countries without the means to fight back.
  • This is exactly the kind of thing that some people like Yves Smith have warned the TPP is going to do with financial regulation and other stuff. So imagine large companies or industries suing the United States or other nations for regulation that would “harm trade” or “violate their intellectual property rights.”
  • In fact, it’s not going too far to say that the proliferation of these kinds of treaties are a serious threat to national sovereignty. Yves makes this case here.
  • Think about it this way. It’s kind of a supernational Citizen’s United, in that only companies and industries that have enough lawyer power can get their way. And many companies easily have more resources than many countries. Think about Facebook and Google and their lobbying efforts on behalf of data privacy laws in Europe already. Now think how that battle might look when it’s against Namibia.
  • Already, from the article, we saw that Uruguay was only able to fight back against Philip Morris because Bloomberg’s foundation helped them with the legal battle. And I’m glad Bloomberg helped, but if you count up all the money that will go to bullying and compare that to all the money available to help out the bullied, you quickly come to a sad conclusion.
  • Once again, we have to remember that the TPP is being negotiated in secret, among a bunch of nations many of whom claim to be democratic.
Categories: #OWS, rant
  1. December 13, 2013 at 8:35 am

    In addition to the fact that the bullies have more money than those fighting them, it is not good to be relying on “benevolent billionaires” like Bloomberg.

    Fortunately, it does seem that grassroots opposition to TPP is building well and seems to have a decent chance of blocking it.


  2. Joshua
    December 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Can anyone clarify what claim is made and what standard of proof is applied in such a suit? For examples of the types of claims I have in mind, they might be:
    (a) Philip Morris needs to prove that Australia is introducing the regulations primarily to reduce imports.
    (b) Australia needs to prove that the regulation is necessary to protect human life.

    I’m not sure of reasonable examples are for standards of proof. I can make up some crazy ones:
    (a’) “we found some guy who believes what we are claiming and is willing to say it in court/to the arbitration panel”
    (b’) “we’ve conducted a 20 year study with 10mm participants . . .”


  3. Miguel Gustav Jones
    December 14, 2013 at 2:27 am

    I think another unsung factor in this is that many of these “suits” will be ruled on by “independent” tribunals as specified in the governing trade agreement. Usually these are weighted in favor of trade/corporate interests, and much less interested in public benefit than a court within a sovereign nation would be.


  1. January 30, 2014 at 7:36 am
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