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Unlikely Victory in Sight on Trans-Pacific Partnership

When ASH formed a coalition almost three years ago to seek special treatment for tobacco in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, many experts told us we were crazy. Free trade is music to the ears of powerful multinational corporations, and both Democrats and Republicans are often eager to push free trade as a way of demonstrating their support for potential high-donors. We pushed ahead anyway for two reasons. First, it is clear that trade law is one of the biggest threats to continued success in combating the global tobacco epidemic. And second, Goliath would never have been defeated if David had agreed that it was pointless to pick up that rock.

Between 2011 and this past summer, we were successful in getting the tobacco issue discussed in a way that it had never been before. In 2012, the U.S. had even revealed a draft proposal that, while insufficient, would at least have been a step in the right direction. On August 14, we received terrible, then wonderful news. The bad news was that the tobacco industry persuaded the Obama administration to back away from even its weak position. In a closed-door session, U.S. officials explained to a small group of public health advocates that due to pressure from pro-tobacco members of congress and industry groups, different and far weaker language would be proposed. ASH worked hard to publicly scold the White House, and was rewarded with articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times and many others.

But on the afternoon of August 14, just 90 minutes after the bad news, terrific news came in from across the Pacific. Malaysia, one of the other 11 TPP negotiating countries, had decided to formally propose a full exemption – or carve-out for tobacco, using the language that ASH and its allies at Georgetown University Law Center had been advocating. Both the American and Malaysian language were proposed at the August negotiating round in Brunei.

Closed-door negotiations in September failed to reach a deal on tobacco, and Malaysia has stuck hard to its position. Several other TPP countries have voiced their support for the carve-out, and none have come forward to support the U.S. position. If the carve-out is accepted, it will be the first time of its kind in any major trade agreement, and it will lead to profound tobacco control benefits for future agreements, especially the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

We are not there yet, but we are closer to victory than anyone thought possible. The thanks goes to you. Without your support, none of this would be possible. You are helping change the world.

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