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Health group warns of TPP threat to 'tobacco control'

THE THAILAND Health Promotion Institute has reaffirmed its stance against any move by Thailand to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) amid concerns it might create legal snags in the country's anti-smoking efforts.

"TPP will threaten our control over tobacco," the institute's president Hatai Chitanondh warned at a press conference yesterday. Supporters say he is speaking up now in anticipation an economic team set up by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which came to power last month, might soon be considering all economic issues, including the TPP.

Hatai expressed a firm stance against the TPP after the US ambassador to Thailand asked the Kingdom to join this trade agreement in April 2012. The Thai health advocate has written to US President Barack Obama asking him to stop urging Thailand to jump into the TPP. Presently, the TPP has just 12 country members, including the United States, and Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia from the Asean region.

"We have solid reasons why Thailand should not join the TPP," Hatai said yesterday.

According to Thailand Health Promotion Institute lawyer Wasin Pipattanachat, the US has tried to include the TRIPS-Plus (the tougher version of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) in the TPP negotiations. Some provisions of this could allow tobacco entrepreneurs to legally challenge Thailand's bans on cigarette advertising and strict tobacco control.

Paisal Limstit from Thammasat University's Faculty of Laws said if Thailand joined the TPP, foreign cigarette manufacturers would have the right to bring Thailand to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) proceedings.

"The case will then be no longer under the jurisdiction of Thai courts," he pointed out. He said this could constitute an interference in Thailand's tobacco control.

Suchada Tangtangtham, an economist at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said Thailand was already a member of many economic groupings and had no need to join the TPP.

"It's better for Thailand to strengthen Asean. It's best for Thailand to focus on the real benefits for Thais, not just the gross domestic products," she said.

There are more than 12 million smokers in Thailand. Each year, some 50,000 people here die of smoking-related diseases.




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