McConnell Seeks to Protect Tobacco Industry in Trade Deal

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pressing the Obama administration to protect his state’s tobacco industry in a trade deal.

McConnell is pressuring U.S. negotiators to ensure that tobacco companies can take part in the dispute settlement portion of the trade deal, with talks scheduled next week on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact with several countries in Asia and Latin America.

Malaysia, backed by other TPP partners and some health groups, wants to exclude tobacco companies from the dispute settlement system to keep them from filing suits that would seek to prevent tax hikes on tobacco products, or regulations requiring bigger warnings on labels.

Tobacco companies say removing tobacco from the dispute settlement system would prevent the companies from suing governments over regulations that they consider damaging to their business, including efforts to remove their brands from packaging.

They’ve been backed by McConnell, who is worried about a cash crop in his state taking a hit.