The major international alcohol and tobacco companies are currently engaged in a tough fight to reach new markets. The tobacco companies are being squeezed in the West by a reduction in the use of tobacco, so they have turned their eyes to developing countries to sell their products. When they look at billions of the world’s poorest people what they see is a lot of potential customers.
It is against this background that the European Commission is forcing developing countries to open their markets to alcohol and tobacco. The Commission is using the World Trade Organization (WTO) to force through policies to open borders.
Using the GATS agreement on trade in services, they are trying to prevent WTO members from creating laws protecting public health – including on alcohol and tobacco. The position that WTO members should be forced to liberalize the trade in and marketing of alcohol is having a similar effect.
All this means that developing countries that want restrictions on the sale and marketing of alcohol and tobacco are being prevented from putting such restrictions in place. Countries like Taiwan and Sri Lanka, which currently have restrictions, will have to give up their current legislation.
This will mean that developing countries with weak voices will be unable to stop their markets being opened to the enormous marketing resources of multinational companies such as Philip Morris, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard. It will also clear a path for Sweden’s Vin & Sprit. And should the centre-right government go through with its plans to sell off the state-owned company Vin & Sprit, this will in no way reduce the company’s eagerness to gain a foothold in the markets of developing countries. In fact, the opposite is more likely, with the company becoming more reliant on profits.
It would be interesting to know what condition Sweden would be in today if stronger countries had pursued these sorts of policies in the last century. It was then that Sweden had major societal problems caused by alcohol consumption. The problem of widespread excessive drinking was tackled by introducing restrictions that enjoyed strong public support and by creating a state retail monopoly. This policy led to Sweden becoming one of the countries with the lowest alcohol consumption in the western world, which laid the foundations for improved public health, better household finances and other positive developments in a variety of areas.
The Left Party feels a sense of responsibility for people in poor countries. We demand an explanation from the centre-right government as to how Sweden’s development policies can be compatible with EU policies that push for the liberalization of the sale of alcohol and tobacco in the poorest countries.
And if these cannot be considered compatible, what does the centre-right government intend doing to block current EU policy?