James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Guest Post: Bollyky on Tobacco and Trade

by James M. Lindsay
Jagdish, a 32-year-old daily wage labourer, smokes a cigarette while working at a a timber market in Mumbai June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Jagdish, a thirty-two-year-old daily wage laborer, smokes a cigarette while working at a timber market in Mumbai on June 7, 2011. (Danish Siddiqui/courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s decision to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks has created a political problem for the White House. The tobacco industry wants the administration to push Asian countries to open up their markets to its products. Public health advocates note that the White House has endorsed next month’s United Nations summit on non-communicable diseases and are calling on the administration to discourage tobacco use abroad as well as at home. Thomas J. Bollyky, CFR’s new senior fellow for global health, economics, and development, just completed a CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum entitled Forging a New Trade Policy on Tobacco. I asked Tom to explain what’s at stake in the debate and how the White House might reconcile trade imperatives with global public health goals. Here is what he had to say.

Tobacco is reemerging as a polarizing issue in U.S. trade policy. Last month, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) circulated a letter demanding that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) exclude tobacco entirely from its eight-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks. Philip Morris asked USTR to use these TPP talks to eliminate tobacco tariffs and block the use of large health warning labels on cigarette packs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has joined in, supporting the tobacco industry’s efforts on labeling.

It is unclear how U.S. officials will proceed, but the stakes are high. The position that the White House adopts on tobacco will set the precedent for future U.S. trade agreements.

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