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Proposed International Treaty Could Hamper State Policy

There’s concern a proposed international trade agreement could force Vermont to roll back regulations controlling the sale and marketing of tobacco products.  

A state commission is looking at ways to influence deliberations over the treaty.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) would remove trade barriers between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and five other countries.

Removing trade barriers is often about lifting tariffs on imported goods, but there’s another aspect to the proposed treaty that could have a significant impact on states. 

Sharon Anglin Treat is a Maine State Representative who also serves on an advisory committee to the U.S. Trade Representative.  She says the treaty’s non-tariff provisions could give a country or a corporation the ability to challenge state regulations.

“What essentially these treaties, are saying is that there are these non-tariff barriers, regulations that make it hard for our company to compete in your country.  So you need to get rid of those regulatory barriers,” said Treat.

Control over tobacco policy is a big concern for states watching the treaty negotiations.

Currently Vermont and other states can restrict how tobacco is marketed and taxed, which tobacco products are available and to whom, and where they can be used.

Chittenden Senator Ginny Lyons who co-chairs the Vermont Commission on International Trade and State Sovereignty says those policies could be challenged under the treaty.

“A large corporation could come in and challenge those laws, either in our courts or in a free trade tribunal and experience tells us that a small state like Vermont would have a very difficult time paying for that litigation,” said Lyons. “All of our public health regulations on tobacco would be at jeopardy.”

Lyons said it’s not a far fetched notion that a distant government might take note of Vermont regulations.

“The electronic waste law is a perfect example.  When I had that bill in committee, China sent me letters telling me that if I should pass it that it would jeopardize their entire technology industry,” she said.

The electronic waste recycling legislation was passed and signed into law in 2010.

In terms of tobacco regulation, Chris Bostic of the advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health said that Vermont has a lot to show for its efforts to regulate tobacco and lower smoking rates.

“It says to me you have a lot to protect here and you don’t want future negotiations to undermine what you have achieved and what you can still achieve,” Bostic told the commission.

Bostic said at this point the states’ best hope is to convince negotiators to provide a ‘carve out’ that would essentially exempt tobacco from the treaty’s provisions.

Commission members are also concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement could also have an impact on Vermont’s efforts to deliver health care, including agreements to purchase pharmaceuticals at a lower cost.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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