More articles The Philippines has been embroiled in a long-running and bitter feud with the United States, as it seeks to gain more access to American goods and services and is in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with the world’s third-largest economy.
The Philippines has long been a leading supplier of cigarettes to the United Kingdom and other Western countries, and is now facing an increasingly tough economic climate that has seen a steep drop in the price of cigarettes.
Last week, US President Donald Trump announced a $1 billion aid package to the Philippines, including $2 billion for health and education programmes, and $1.7 billion in financial aid for schools.
“It’s a very, very complex situation, the Philippines is one of the world leaders in tobacco consumption, and we’re seeing a steep decline in the demand for cigarettes,” said Philip Morris Australia managing director, Tim Caulfield.
The United States has long demanded that the Philippines drop its anti-smoking campaign, which has been labelled a “Trojan Horse” by the Philippines.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for not doing enough to combat the tobacco industry and for not making an overt threat to shut down the country’s biggest cigarette-producing and import-shipping business.
“The US has been very active in pressuring the Philippines and demanding the Philippines do more to combat this problem,” said Caulfields.
The US Department of Commerce said it is “committed to continuing to work with the government of the Philippines to ensure that all economic, trade, and investment opportunities benefit Filipinos, as well as American exporters and consumers.”
Philippine Health Minister Edcel Lagman said the Philippines has to “work through these issues” to “address the serious issues of tobacco use, smoking cessation and health.”
“We have to get past the fact that we’re a tobacco nation, that we have a bad habit,” he said.
The government has repeatedly said it would not impose a tobacco ban and is working on ways to help improve smoking cessation.
The Philippines, which produces almost 70 percent of the cigarettes in the world, has a national smoking rate of 10 percent.
The trade dispute has been a sore point between the countries since the early 1990s, when the Philippines was part of the United Nations Convention on Tobacco Control (UNCOC).
The Philippines ratified the convention in 1995 but did not make any significant progress towards its objectives.
It was in 2005 that the UN finally ratified a deal with the US that gave the Philippines “full and unrestricted” access to U.S. markets.
In 2008, the US Department on Foreign Affairs signed a $2.5 billion deal that allowed the Philippines direct access to the U.K. market for up to 10 years.
However, the pact was not fully implemented, with some countries complaining the Philippines did not follow through on its commitments and had not made any progress on reducing smoking.
In December last year, the United State Senate approved an amendment to the US-Philippines Comprehensive and Progressive Trade Agreement (CPTPP) that would allow the Philippines up to 15 years in the United Stated market.
But Mr Caulfeld said the deal had been “taken out of context” and the deal did not specifically mention the Philippines by name.
He said there was “absolutely no suggestion” that the Philippine government was targeting the US.
“In fact, they’re really interested in working with us in a way that they don’t see us as the enemy of the US,” he told Al Jazeera.
In fact there is a clear message from the Philippines that they’re not trying to target the US at all, and that we are their partners in the region.
“They’re interested in collaborating with us and working together, which is a positive thing,” he added.
Caulfield said he hoped the US was not looking to impose a ban on cigarettes in order to pressure the Philippines into ending its tobacco use.
“They want to make sure that there are no unintended consequences,” he explained.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that they intend to make the Philippines pay a price.”
However, Philip Morris said the US had been a strong advocate for the deal.
“We believe the TPP is a fair deal that benefits both sides and is a significant step towards bringing about real and meaningful reform of the global tobacco market,” it said in a statement.
“While we recognize the challenges of the TPP agreement, we remain hopeful that the US and its partners will continue to engage with the countries of the Pacific to address the real challenges facing tobacco control and its prevention and control.”
Philippines President Rodrigo Davao said the pact would help to reduce tobacco use and smoking deaths in the country.