'Trade policy, not morals or health policy'

The US Trade Representative, tobacco companies and market liberalization in Thailand

Ross MacKenzie*, Jeff Collin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


The enforced opening of Thailand's cigarette market to imports in 1990 has become a cause celebre in debates about the social and health impacts of trade agreements. At the instigation of leading US-based cigarette manufacturers, the US Trade Representative (USTR) threatened trade sanctions against Thailand to compel the government to liberalize its domestic cigarette market. Thailand's challenge to the USTR led to referral to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) arbitration. While GATT ruled in favour of the USTR on market access, it also found that Thailand could subsequently enact non-discriminatory tobacco control regulation without contravening the GATT agreement. This article contributes to existing literature via its analysis of tobacco industry documents that highlight not only USTR responsiveness to lobbying from tobacco corporations, raising concerns about the drivers of globalization and the limited protection afforded to public health concerns in trade agreements. Significantly, the documents also indicate that USTR support of the tobacco industry was not unconditional, being subject to wider pressures of global trade negotiations. Such qualification notwithstanding, however, ongoing governmental willingness to advance the international interests of tobacco corporations remains a concern from a public health perspective, particularly given the failure of the US to ratify the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-172
Number of pages24
JournalGlobal Social Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

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