Reasons given to the Prime Minister for VISA opposing the setting up of the tobacco manufacturing plant in the free port of Mauritius
The tobacco industry views Africa as its next El Dorado
The tobacco industry is engaged in aggressive marketing in the African continent in view of increasing the consumption of tobacco products. This is a calculated strategy on the part of the tobacco industry as consumption of tobacco is decreasing in developed countries. Already, 80% of the 6 million annual tobacco-related deaths in the world are occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
By offering the production facilities to the tobacco industry in our free port, the Government of Mauritius was becoming party to the strategy of the tobacco industry of increasing tobacco production and consumption in Africa, thus leading to further tobacco-related suffering and deaths in a continent already faced with the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases and many other social and economic problems. Mauritius hadthe moral responsibility not to allow the tobacco industry from using its territory to manufacture a product which would cause much harm to populations in other African countries. In fact, the request from Dubai was a test of morality to the Government of Mauritius as it assessed the degree to which it was ready to protect the populations of other countries in the Region from the tobacco industry and the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption. The setting up of the tobacco manufacturing plant in our free port would have severely tarnished the image of Mauritius as it was tantamount to a lack of regional and global responsibility in the face of the unrelenting epidemic of tobacco. The battle against tobacco could only be won when governments throughout the world are mutually supportive of tobacco control policies.
It violated the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization (WHO FCTC).
Mauritius having ratified the WHO FCTC is legally bound by the provisions of the Convention. Principle 1 of the Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 states: “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” VISA considered that by helping the tobacco company to establish its factory in the free port of Mauritius, the Government of Mauritius was acting in a way which was fundamentally in conflict with the interest of public health and was considering the particular interest of the tobacco industry as being superior to public interest.
Furthermore, Principle 4 of the Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 states: “Any preferential treatment of the tobacco industry would be in conflict with tobacco control policy.” This Principle is followed by Recommendation 7.1 which states: “Parties should not grant incentives, privileges or benefits to the tobacco industry to establish or run their businesses.” VISA considered that permission granted to the Dubai-based company to operate in the free port of Mauritius and to sell a certain amount of its products on the domestic market constituted preferential treatment and incentives to the said company and a violation of the WHO FCTC.
It violated the United Nation’s Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.
At the above meeting, Heads of States and representatives of governments acknowledged that the global burden and threat of non-communicable diseases constitutes one of the major challenges for development in the twenty-first century, undermines social and economic development throughout the world and threatens the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. Principle 38 of the Declaration recognizes “the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health”. As a Member of the United Nations, Mauritius was bound by the Political Declaration. By allowing the tobacco industry to set up the tobacco manufacturing plant in our free port, the Government of Mauritius was protecting the interest of the tobacco industry at the expense of public interest and public health.
The free zone tobacco plant would serve as cover for illicit trade of tobacco products
Cigarettes are among the most illegally trafficked goods in the world. Studies estimate that approximately 11% of world cigarette market is illicit, representing over 600 billion cigarettes a year. It leads to vast amounts of lost revenue, obstructs economic development, undermines government policies, supports corrupt practices and funds organized crimes and terrorism. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has identified free zones as a key facilitator for illicit trade. According to the World Customs Organization (WCO), free zones are used to set up production facilities for counterfeit or contraband goods. WCO adds that free zones in the United Arab Emirates are known sources of considerable counterfeit cigarette production which targets predominantly West African markets. Dubai, which is one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates, is rumoured to be one of the greatest transshipment points at the moment for illegal cigarettes going to Europe. In view of the above, VISA was convinced that the Dubai-based tobacco manufacturing plant had the hidden agenda to use the free port of Mauritius to engage in illicit trade of tobacco products. Therefore, VISA proposed that Mauritius be guided by Article 15 of the WHO FCTC which recognizes the importance of tackling illicit tobacco trade and calls for sub-regional, regional and global cooperation to eliminate it.
Chewing tobacco would increase consumption of tobacco in Mauritius
The existing law in Mauritius would allow a certain percentage of the cigarettes and chewing tobacco produced in the free port to be sold on the domestic market. It was highly likely that the tobacco industry would adopt a strategy of marketing both cigarettes and chewing tobacco in Mauritius. The risk was that the sale of chewing tobacco would increase as it became more accessible and affordable to Mauritians, encouraging its consumption mostly in vulnerable groups like children, youth and women and also in places where the use of smoked tobacco is prohibited by law. This was likely to increase the overall consumption of tobacco in future and jeopardize the gains achieved so far by Mauritius in the fight against tobacco use.