TRACIT welcomes the forthcoming entry into force of the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products
With the UK signing on to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade (the Protocol), last week, the Protocol finally achieved the threshold support needed for it to enter into force.[i]
This is a significant milestone in the fight against illicit trade in tobacco, specifically; and it’s a strong signal that the international governance community has an appetite to rally its forces against illicit trade generally.
Tobacco is perhaps the most widespread and well-documented sector vulnerable to illicit trade[ii] and the WHO reports that one in every 10 cigarettes consumed globally is illicit.[iii] Like virtually all forms of illicit trade, this illegal activity robs governments of tax revenue, fuels corruption and terrorism, and expands the global illegal economy, which hampers competition and free trade and subsidizes other forms of criminality, including drugs, arms and human trafficking.[iv]
For legal businesses operating in the tobacco sector, damages include trademark infringement, lost market share and increased supply chain costs associated with monitoring infrastructure and implementing trace and trace technologies. For the consumer, it means exposure to unregulated and adulterated products.
The Protocol contains several measures that should prove effective for improving security in the legal supply chain, including the establishment of a global tracking and tracing system and stricter penalties for offences, liability and seizure payments. Moreover, it includes several measures aimed at promoting international cooperation, including on information sharing, technical and law enforcement, cooperation, mutual legal and administrative assistance, and extradition.
While the entry into force of the Protocol is an important step in itself, this really is just the starting point. For the Protocol to effectively address the problem, many more countries will need to become parties to it. And, it will be crucial for those parties to live up to their formal engagements and set up the envisaged institutional, regulatory and legislative measures without delay.
Beyond tobacco, TRACIT believes that the Protocol holds enormous potential to support and leverage efforts to combat other forms of illicit trade that similarly exploit regulatory controls supply chain vulnerabilities. For example, the requirement to “implement effective controls on all manufacturing of and transactions in, tobacco products in free zones” will ramp up attention to suspect manufacturing processes in the zones. Similarly, national measures adopted under Article 18—calling on Parties to allow for the use of special investigative techniques—can be applied to a broad range of illicitly traded goods across sectors.
Other tools can be applied to fight illicit trade more broadly, such as requirements to establish a licensing system for supply chain actors and shaping effective customer due diligence processes. These measures can all serve as benchmarks for policy-makers intent on tackling illicit trade in other sectors.
The First session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 8-10 October 2018. Meetings of the Parties are expected to be convened at regular intervals of time in order to review and promote the implementation of the Protocol. The October meeting will be a particularly interesting event as the first testing ground of the willingness of its Parties to turn words into deeds.
[i] World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. (2018, June 28). The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is live! [Press release]. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/fctc/mediacentre/press-release/protocol-entering-into-force/en/
[ii] Melzer, S. and C. Martin (2016). "A brief overview of illicit trade in tobacco products", in Illicit Trade: Converging Criminal Networks, OECD Publishing, Paris. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264251847-8-en
[iii] World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. (2018, June 28). The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is live! [Press release]. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/fctc/mediacentre/press-release/protocol-entering-into-force/en/
[iv] US State Department. (2015, December). The Global Illicit Trade in Tobacco: A Threat to National Security. Retrieved from: https://2009-2017.state.gov/documents/organization/250513.pdf
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TRACIT Talking Points is a channel we’ve opened to comment on current trends and critical issues. This blog showcases articles from our staff and leadership, along with feature stories from our partners in the private sector and thought-leaders from government and civil society. Our aim is to deepen the dialogue on emerging policy issues and enforcement measures that can be deployed against illicit trade.