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International trade versus public health during the FCTC negotiations, 1999-2003


Objective To examine why the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control did not include an explicit trade provision and delineate the central arguments in the debate over trade provision during the negotiations.

Methods Triangulate interviews with participants in the FCTC negotiations, the FCTC negotiations documents, and tobacco industry documents.

Results An explicit FCTC trade provision on relation between international trade and public health became a contentious issue during the negotiations. As a result, two conflicting positions, health-over-trade and opposition to health-over-trade emerged. Opposition to explicit trade language giving health priority was by both tobacco industry and countries that generally supported strong FCTC provisions because of concerns over ‘disguised protectionism’ and setting a precedent whereby governments could forfeit their obligations under pre-existing treaties. Owing to lack of consensus among political actors involved in the negotiations, a compromise position eliminating any mention of trade emerged, which was predicated on belief among some in the public health community that public health would prevail in future trade versus health conflicts.

Conclusion The absence of an explicit FCTC trade provision was due to a political compromise rather than the impact of international trade agreements and decisions on public health and lack of consensus among health advocates. This failure to include an explicit trade provision in the FCTC suggests that the public health community should become more involved in trade and health issues at all levels of governance and press the FCTC Conference of the Parties for clarification of this critical issue.

  • Framework convention on tobacco control
  • World Trade Organisation
  • World Health Organization
  • international trade
  • public health
  • public policy
  • qualitative study

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