US-ABC facilitates PMI’s access to top leaders, again

30 June 2017:

Bangkok: Last week, Philip Morris International (PMI) and 33 large U.S. companies met with Thai Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers of Energy, Industry and Transportation. These companies belong to the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC) which made its annual business trip to Thailand. These trips are termed ‘Business Mission’ which describes the missionary zeal these businessmen apply to increasing profits in Thailand.

The businessmen also collectively met with many other Ministers such as Public Health, Commerce, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture. It would not be so easy if PMI tried to meet individually with these ministers and their departments. However, going under the mantle of the US-ABC gives PMI unprecedented access which it can capitalise on for follow-up engagements.

Through the trade and business platform, PMI has found an easy pathway to meet with a country’s top leaders annually to grow and protect its business. For information on the US-ABC’s relationship with the tobacco industry, see here.  US-ABC’s Business Missions to the ASEAN countries in 2017:

Cambodia 21 – 22 February
Vietnam 6 – 9 March
Malaysia 27 – 29 March
Singapore 8 – 9 May
Thailand 21 – 23 June 
Philippines 25 – 27 July
Indonesia 1 – 3 August
Lao PDR 1 September
Myanmar  9 – 11 October 

US-ABC’s Business Mission to Vietnam in March also facilitated PMI to meet with top government officials who responded positively to their businesses, including the tobacco business, to flourish between the two counties. It was most unfortunate that the US Ambassador to Vietnam led the business delegation although the U.S. has laws prohibiting its Diplomatic Missions from being used to promote tobacco.

PMI sits on the Board of the US-ABC and is the Vice Chair of its ‘Custom & Trade Facilitation’ division. This division reported that in Vietnam they met with representatives from the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The tobacco industry wants the government to adopt its solutions to tackle the tobacco smuggling problem; i.e. not to increase tobacco tax substantially and to work collaboratively with the tobacco industry. Both these industry recommendations contravene the WHO FCTC. The tobacco industry also wants to divert 50% of Vietnam’s tobacco control fund to industry-recommended enforcement activities of tobacco smuggling.

Besides making annual business trips to the ASEAN countries, the US-ABC also makes interventions in inter-governmental regional meetings such as the ASEAN Customs-Directors General meeting which took place in Bali this May. According to astatement issued by the ASEAN D-Gs of Customs, it held a consultation with the US-ASEAN Business Council “to strengthen Customs-to-Business partnerships in the region”. PMI’s participation in this consultation raises questions.

Surely FCTC Article 5.3 applies to the Customs D-Gs of the ASEAN countries when they attend international meetings. The Philippines’ CSC-DOH Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2010-01 on the Protection of the Bureaucracy Against Tobacco Industry Interference applies to all civil servants. The JMC establishes strict guidelines on matters pertaining to dealings both directly and indirectly with the Tobacco Industry, such as, but not limited to: (a) unnecessary interaction; (b) preferential treatment; (c) accepting gifts, donations, and sponsorships; (d) financial interests; (e) analogous favors extended family members; (f) conflict of interest; and, (g) engagement in occupational activities.

FCTC Article 5.3 should be adopted and implemented to the whole government like how the Philippines has applied it. The Health Cluster, under ASEAN’s Socio-Cultural pillar, has adopted Article 5.3 in its work plan. It’s time the ASEAN Economic pillar (such as the Customs division and Labour and Civil Service Division) apply the FCTC and Article 5.3 Guidelines in their activities.