Negotiations for Tobacco controls to resume next April

Geneva, 20 October (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was due Friday to end its first week-long session here to meet sometime next April or May to draft and negotiate a framework convention and possible related proposals.

The INB-FCTC is chaired by Ambassador Celso Luis Nunes Amorim of Brazil and has a bureau of six vice-chairs—the delegates of Australia, India, Iran, South Africa, Turkey and the United States of America—and with two of the vice-chairs (South Africa and Turkey) also serving as rapporteurs.

Some 148 governments are represented at the INB.

The INB has been established by the World Health Assembly, which had also established a working group which, after two meetings in October 1999 and March 2000, had drawn proposed draft elements of the convention and which were reviewed by the World Health Assembly at its meeting in May 2000.

At a press conference Friday, before the final meeting of the INB at this session, Mr. Amorim said that the INB has discussed in working groups a “catalogue of elements” for the FCTC and these would be used as a reference paper or document for the INB.

A series of conference room papers were being compiled and there would be a chairman’s text to be put together by him in about a fortnight or so, and will be given to governments to enable them to focus their minds and come prepared for the next meeting.

While a final decision was yet to be taken, Mr.Amorim envisaged three working groups to meet at the next session, and discuss issues in three clusters perhaps in the first week, to be followed up plenary meetings and working groups in the second week.

It was Mr. Amorim’s impression from the weeklong meeting that the discussions at the INB had brought up some new suggestions, and sometimes moved delegations further apart on others.

The working groups at the next session would probably deal with issues in three clusters: one cluster of issues that relate the FCTC questions to the economy, a second on the health content and a third on institutional and implementation aspects.

While final decisions were yet to be taken, Mr.Amorim’s own sense of the discussions was that new texts would be produced, circulated to governments to give them time to study them and come back for the next session. It was for each government to go through an inter-ministerial or any other process to reconcile the varying conflicting interests—of health, economy, fiscal revenue effects etc.

There was a lot of convergence already that many specific issues should be left to be dealt with through protocols, and some general questions through the framework itself. But disagreements were there as to what were ‘general’ and what were ‘specific’.

On the issue of tobacco advertisements and whether they should be banned, Mr.  Amorim that several countries, including his own, had pointed out that they could have some ‘constitutional problems’ over a complete ban on advertising.

As for the issue of tobacco smuggling, several suggested harmonisation of taxes would be needed to prevent it, while others saw tax harmonisation a difficult exercise, both from the political point of view and in terms of the instruments.

There was also a divergence of views between those who wanted to prohibit tobacco and tobacco use, and others who sought to derive some lessons from the problems faced by ban on narcotic drugs.

The conference has also reached some tentative understanding on the participation of non-governmental organizations in its work. Those accredited to the WHO would be able to participate in plenaries and working groups. As for restricted meetings of working groups and drafting sessions, representatives of the NGOs could be invited to present their viewpoints. The Conference is also asking the WHO executive board to expedite decisions on NGOs seeking accreditation to the WHO.

Meanwhile, a number of activist non-government groups campaigning against tobacco and the tobacco companies have been charging that the tobacco transnational corporations have financed the participation and presence of several developing country delegations.

Asked about this at his press conference, Mr. Amorim said this was a matter for ‘investigative journalism’ and not for him to ascertain. .

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