Is Philip Morris talking to your Customs DG?

Recently the 24th ASEAN Director-Generals of Customs meeting was held in Brunei, 20-22 May 2015. This official meeting is attended by all ASEAN Member States and the ASEAN Secretariat. The outcome of the May meeting states it held consultation sessions with the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC).  

The US-ABC prepared a briefing paper for this meeting and also issued a press release saying nine leading U.S. companies joined the meeting to “exchange ideas on continuing to expand U.S. business presence in ASEAN.” That would include the tobacco business.

This meeting was attended by 2 Philip Morris International executives: 1) Valerio D’Angelo Manager, Illicit Trade Strategies and Prevention Projects – Asia; 2) Atty. John Peter Ferdinand S. Echiverri, Manager, Tax, Fiscal & Regulatory Affairs Corporate Affairs PMFTC Inc. PMI’s  business is also profiled in the briefing paper, thereby promoting it as a partner to Directors of Customs.

US-ABC says it is grateful for “our continued dialogue with the ASEAN Directors-General of Customs to discuss customs and trade facilitation issues in the region” and look forward to discussing these recommendations in more detail.

The paper calls for working with the private sector (including TI) and steers the tobacco smuggling problem to focus narrowly on counterfeit cigarettes (industry tactic) rather than the broader issue of tobacco smuggling (pgs 11-12). It is glaringly silent on the FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, because the tobacco industry cannot be part of the FCTC process. The TI does not want our governments to ratify the Protocol, so it is going all out to divert government’s attention to TI-friendly solutions like that outlined in US-ABC’s paper.

Note that three tobacco industry associates were in the contingent of the nine companies: KPMG –they were hired by PMI to do the study on illicit trade of tobacco for the EU, used in Australia to fight their tax increase; PwC –the auditors of PMI (conflict of interest, not independent); Deloitte – hired by BAT Australia to find evidence to attack plain packaging.

Who is the US-ABC?

They are a high profile US business lobby group operating in ASEAN countries. They are pro-tobacco industry in all their positions. They sponsor many in-country meetings with Heads of State, regional meetings and when our leaders visit the US. PMI is on the Board of Directors of US-ABC, as “Secretary” and a member of its Executive Committee. PMI’s rep is Jon HuenemannVice President, U.S. and International Affairs, Philip Morris International. The US-ABC will ensure PMI’s business interest is promoted to governments. US-ABC has “US-Country” committee in most ASEAN countries. PMI sits in the committee for Indonesia and Singapore.