Duty free tobacco ban talks stall during WHO meeting

SWITZERLAND. Planned talks over the proposed World Health Organization (WHO) ban on duty free tobacco sales failed to materialise during the WHO treaty negotiations in Geneva on INB4 – the Protocol that aims to stamp out the illicit trade in tobacco – which concluded yesterday.

No agreement was reached on the overall protocol, while the duty free ban was not discussed at all – mainly due to the meeting’s focus on agreeing ways to track and trace tobacco products.

The draft treaty would require countries to license tobacco manufacturers and retailers and set up a tracing regime with a global database.

Health campaigners have claimed that goods intended for duty free retail sales are often diverted into illicit trade, an allegation rejected hotly by a strong alliance of travel and travel retail industry bodies, including the European Travel Retail Council (ETRC), International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores (IAADFS), Airports Council International (ACI), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA)

The Moodie Report contacted the ETRC this morning for comment on the outcome – or lack of one – of the Geneva meeting. The organization said it is assessing the implications and is likely to issue a statement later.

Anti-tobacco campaigners have accused tobacco companies and travel retail lobbyists of trying to “derail” the week-long negotiations.

In an extraordinary document published on the eve of the talks entitled ‘Smokescreen for Smuggling – Tobacco Industry attempts to derail the Illicit Trade Protocol’, two anti-tobacco organizations, Corporate Accountability International and The Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, said that the tobacco industry was “hiding behind trade associations and front groups to dispute the connection between duty free sales and tobacco smuggling”.

It continued: “Transnational tobacco corporations oppose bans on duty free sales and have used their connections with duty free trade associations as a front to weaken the FCTC protocol and the findings that duty free sales of tobacco lead to increased smuggling.”

The report said: “Duty free trade associations like the European Travel Retail Confederation, the International Association of Duty Free Stores and the Tax Free World Association have all been active in their lobbying efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the FCTC and Illicit Trade Protocol, arguing that a duty free ban is irrelevant, ineffective and unfair.”

The document underlines the strength of anti-duty free sentiment among lobbyists – and their knowledge of the industry’s associations and key individuals. It dedicates significant space to the ETRC, IAADFS and, in particular to ETRC Secretary General Keith Spinks, who it describes as a “visible figure throughout the FCTC negotiations”.

Such comments are unlikely to concern either the trade associations or Spinks – after all, they reflect the fact that he is doing his job. But they do indicate that the proposed abolition of duty free tobacco sales remains an integral element of the anti-tobacco lobby’s INB4 focus and that the travel retail industry has a major fight on its hands to preserve a key element of its business.

We’ll bring you more details on the latest round of negotiations as soon as they are available.
Source: ©The Moodie Report
By Melody Ng, Asia Bureau Chief

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