UPDATE 1-Push grows to target tobacco, health in Pacific trade rules

Wed Sep 30, 2015 8:39pm EDT
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(Adds comments from Australia's Robb, lobby group, background, Democrats)

By Krista Hughes

ATLANTA, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Pressure is mounting on Pacific trading partners over potential steps to block foreign investors from suing governments over anti-smoking measures, under a free trade pact that is nearing completion.

Trade ministers from 12 countries are discussing possible exemptions from rules letting foreign companies sue governments over damage to investments as they try to wrap up talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

No final consensus has been reached on whether any exclusion would target only tobacco companies or shield a wider range of government regulations from legal action, but Australia's Andrew Robb is optimistic about his country's push for a broad carve-out for both health and environmental regulations.

"I think we're on track, but there's not a final decision yet," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Atlanta meetings.

Similar rules in a separate trade treaty allowed Marlboro maker Philip Morris to sue Australia over tobacco plain-packaging laws banning branded cigarette packs.

Excluding an industry such as tobacco from protections for foreign investors would cheer anti-smoking groups and many of the U.S. Democratic lawmakers who have bucked union pressure to support President Barack Obama's trade agenda.

A group of 11 pro-trade Democrats, who helped pass key trade legislation earlier this year, wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Wednesday, urging him to make sure tobacco disputes are excluded from TPP rules.   Continued...