25 May States Front for Cigarette Makers in the WTO (and Google Will Surely Find Its Way Into the ITU)
Ukraine and Honduras have initiated complaints at the World Trade Organization against Australia with respect to the latter’s plain cigarette packaging rules. Neither country has much trade with Australia. (Ukrainian cigarettes? Doesn’t sound very appealing!) So why bother? Because the cigarette companies are fronting legal costs. From Reuters:
Both complainants have “requested consultations” with Australia, the first step in the WTO legal process. The first round of negotiations was held in the past month, she said.
“Our belief is that some people in the meeting were British American Tobacco lawyers,” she told Reuters, adding that she wasn’t aware of any date for a second round.
A spokesman for British American Tobacco confirmed to Reuters that the company had provided assistance for the WTO challenges but could not confirm that BAT lawyers were directly involved in the talks.
One could imagine tobacco companies actually paying countries to bring such claims (or paying them off, with offers of direct investment) – otherwise why annoy a medium power like Australia. Would there be anything WTO non-compliant about that?
It goes to show that international organizations, even when formally intergovernmental, are increasingly subject to non-state penetration. (Another example: Greenpeace’s paying membership dues for minor states in the International Whaling Commission – see pp. 80-81 of this interesting paper.)
Perhaps that’s the answer to Vincent Cerf’s op-ed in today’s NY Times, sounding the alarms with respect to a possible UN power grab over internet governance. Who knew the obscure International Telecommunications Union could play global governance bogeyman. Cerf issues a call to the virtual barricades against intergovernmental regulation:
the I.T.U. creates significant barriers to civil society participation. . . .I encourage you to take action now: Insist that the debate about Internet governance be transparent and open to all stakeholders.
The point is surely well taken – the legitimacy (however defined) of such processes depends on the participation of civil society and corporate actors. I suspect, though, that Google and other powerful interests will enjoy channels of influence, one way or another, so no need to fret about world (internet) government just yet.