'Trade deal could help Big Tobacco in legal battles': IMO
A proposed trade agreement between the EU and the US could aid tobacco firms in their fight against plain packaging, according to a senior figure in the Irish Medical Organisation.
Dr Neil Brennan, chair of the IMO International Affairs Committee, said he was concerned that the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would set up a transnational arbitration system which would allow tobacco companies to bypass national governments.
TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the US that would reduce regulatory barriers to trade. Proponents argue that it would result in more trading and economic growth.
Those against TTIP argue it would make it difficult for national governments to regulate markets.
One of the proposed provisions would allow companies to apply for compensation if a government passes a law that it feels discriminates against foreign firms. Another would allow US companies to appeal laws to an international arbitrator if it was prevented from challenging the law in a country's local or national courts.
Mr Brennan, who previously served as IMO president, said he was concerned that TTIP may allow tobacco firms to take legal challenges on plain packaging "out of the realms of government".
He said: "Instead of having to challenge the laws in an Irish court, they may be able to take the dispute to an arbitrator. It leaves the door open for companies to challenge laws on the grounds that one country is discriminating against them and not another, and say Ireland should not discriminate against their right to carry out business in Europe."
After Mr Brennan voiced his concerns at the IMO's recent AGM, the body passed a motion calling on the Government to ensure that the TTIP and other trade agreements negotiated at EU level "cannot weaken existing or future regulations and policies that protect public health".
Legislation requiring plain packaging on cigarette boxes is due to come into effect next month.
However, the law has already been subject to a legal challenge involving Japan Tobacco International Ireland.