Removal of tobacco from the AFTA list
JULY 19 — A week ago it was announced that tobacco would be removed from the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) list by Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai. This is indeed welcome news because although the original proposal categorised tobacco in the “sensitive list”, by 2010 it was completely liberalised.
Tobacco trade liberalisation means the elimination of import duties and tariffs for tobacco, meaning that the price of tobacco would be much cheaper than it currently is.
Tobacco trade liberalisation leads to very harmful impact on public health especially tobacco control measures i.e.
● low tobacco tariffs will reduce cost for cigarette production; and
● cheaper cigarettes will in turn increase consumption and thus raise tobacco attributable health effects and economic burden of treating tobacco-related disease.
Due to the above reasons, the exclusion of tobacco from AFTA is one that will ensure that tobacco taxes remain high and Malaysians can continue towards reducing smoking prevalence and the burden of tobacco-related disease.
We can expect, however, that in light of Liow’s announcement that tobacco will be excluded from the AFTA list that the tobacco industry will fight tooth and nail to continue enjoying the incentives through the negligible import duties. Therefore, health groups must unite to defeat the foreseeable tobacco industry interference that will occur both at the local and regional level.
It is useful to note that in the recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2011, 70 per cent of Malaysian adults were in favour of taxes on cigarettes rising, and the removal of tobacco from the AFTA list is in line with what Malaysians want.
The exclusion of tobacco from AFTA must be supported — however our work is not done. The Malaysian government is currently negotiating two secretive trade agreements, one called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) with the United States and eight other countries, and the Malaysia-European Union Free Trade Agreement (MEUFTA).
Both agreements contain provisions that will require either a standstill on tobacco control legislation and health measures that negatively affect the profits of tobacco companies, and/or reduction of tobacco taxes.
Health groups and individuals alike must demand that the government, and in particular the Ministry of International Trade and Industry which leads the negotiations with the United States and Europe, demands a “carve-out” i.e. a removal of tobacco from the application of both trade agreements.
The lives of Malaysians (both smokers and persons living in the midst of smokers) depend on it!
Note: If anyone would like the GATS survey fact sheet, please email [email protected]
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.