To the whole of the Meeting of the Parties for demonstrating collaborative, constructive commitment to advancing the Protocol.
To France for being the only high-income Party to have never paid their assessed contributions to the Protocol.
Highlights from Day 1 of MOP3: Efficient Start and Substantive Discussions
On day 1, the MOP moved swiftly and efficiently through the first agenda items in the Plenary before heading into Committee meetings at the end of the day. A huge shout out to the Convention Secretariat staff for pulling everything together so seamlessly for the MOP, especially having just finished a jam-packed week at the COP last week.
The first day of MOP3 was dedicated to getting the administrative business of the MOP checked off the list and the well-organized high-level segment, but we still managed to get into some really good substantive discussions during the side events that were organzied over lunchtime. The Global Alliance for Tobacco Control and Corporate Accountability convened delegates to a side event on challenges and findings of research in illicit trade of tobacco products, with presentations by colleagues from Smokefree Partnership and Johns Hopkins University. Delegates were also fortunate to hear from the United Kingdom on their national track and trace system referencing its compliance with article 5.3, and the UN International Computing Centre on the Interim Global Sharing Point.
The remaining agenda items with some scope for discussion stay the same. Committee A will need to discuss the report of the Working Group on tracking and tracing, the proposed road map, timelines and steps to conduct evidence-based research on articles 6.5 and 13.2, as well as the improvements to the reporting system of the Protocol. Committee B will be discussing progress since 2020, Assessed Contributions, changes to the proposed MOP Investment Fund, and the work plan and budget for the upcoming biennium.
We still have a lot of important work ahead of us this week to ensure effective implementation of the Protocol and that it moves in the right direction. A sense of spirit and collaboration is definitely present at day 1 of MOP3 – seems like we’re on the right track for a successful day 2.
Overcoming Barriers to the Protocol’s Effectiveness and Combating Illicit Tobacco Trade
While according to the Secretariat’s report there are resource constraints that remain a critical challenge for 60% (37) of Parties seeking to implement the Protocol, other key obstacles hinder its full effectiveness.
There are at least three main areas demanding attention: navigating the policy landscape, unifying efforts across agencies and among Parties at the regional level, and building capacity and expertise.
1. Navigating the policy landscape:
Integrating the Protocol with existing national strategies for tackling illicit trade, money laundering, and corruption is crucial. Controlling illicit trade in tobacco products and enhanced overall governance are mutually reinforcing.(1) Given these challenges, navigating complex existing legislation and aligning with the priorities of customs and law enforcement agencies often presents a significant barrier.
2. Unifying efforts across agencies and among Parties at the regional level
There may exist in some countries conflicting priorities among tax authorities, customs, law enforcement, trade, money laundering, and corruption agencies-both within and among member Parties- that could impede progress. Indeed, only 39 Parties (63%) reported having established a domestic coordination mechanism among enforcement agencies, and the same number reported having established coordination with law enforcement agencies in other Parties. This indicates a need for further steps, including setting clear priorities, establishing leadership, and developing a roadmap for seamless integration. The lack of prioritization diverts resources away from intensified efforts against illicit cigarette trade.
To continue cost-effective strategies in illicit trade control, there is a need to align these agencies in a unified effort against illicit tobacco trade. Parties that have yet to do so should consider conducting an analysis of functions and capacities of participating agencies, including prosecutors and the judiciary. If not available, this analysis should be aligned with the preparation of a comprehensive risk analysis.(2) This will provide a baseline/ collaborative approach to ensure a unified front, facilitating the effective implementation of concerted efforts against illicit tobacco trade.
Member Parties participating in regional cooperation and information exchange is equally crucial for strengthened enforcement across borders. According to the Secretariat's report, cooperation under Article 24 (Assistance and cooperation: investigation and prosecution of offenses) has been low, with only 14 Parties (23%) reporting collaborative arrangements.
3. Building capacity and expertise.
Some Parties identified inadequate knowledge and capacity as a major hindrance to implementation of the Protocol at the domestic level, particularly art. 8. The Secretariat's report mentions that a number of Parties struggle with setting up or operationalizing national coordination mechanisms or platforms for implementation. A few Parties identified a general lack of understanding of the needs and awareness of illicit tobacco trade at the domestic level as factors impeding implementation. Identifying cost-effective approaches to building capacity tailored to their specific illicit tobacco trade patterns is essential. Technical assistance from other Parties and the Secretariat can play a vital role in overcoming these limitations, but also exploring agreements and cooperation from key international agencies with long-standing work in addressing these problems, such as UNODC, World Customs Organization (WCO), Interpol, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the World Bank.
Finally, the time has probably arrived to discuss the need for guidelines (such as those prepared for articles of the FCTC) to provide Parties with tailored best practices to address diverse challenges faced during implementation of Part III (Supply change control) and other sections of the Protocol in connection to their real risks.
Alejandro Ramos Carbajales,Independent consultant on tax policies and control of the illicit tobacco trade
Confronting Illicit Tobacco Trade:A Global review of country experiences.Technical Report of the World Bank Group, Global Tobacco Control Program. THE WORLD BANK, 2019
Identify risk factors: (economic, supply chain, demand, social and cultural), assess risk impacts, analyze vulnerabilities (weak law enforcement, porous borders, and corruption), estimate probability and impact (assign likelihood scores to each risk factor and vulnerability identified), estimate the potential impact (e.g., financial losses, health consequences) of each risk scenario. Prioritize Risks
A Top Priority: More Technical and Financial Assistance for LMIC Countries
The Protocol is doing well. It entered into force 5 years ago, and by the end of 2023, there were 68 Parties to the Protocol. Ratification is, of course, not enough, implementation is needed, which is always easier for high than for low-income countries. According to the classification used by the World Bank, 29 Parties to the Protocol are high-income, 15 are upper-middle income, 14 are lower-middle income and 10 are low-income. Implementation of key measures of the Protocol, such as licensing, tracking and tracing, due diligence and free zones, remains a big concern. In the report of the Convention Secretariat on financial resources and mechanisms of assistance, Parties reported that they need technical assistance and resources to set up a tracking and tracing system, “with most Parties recognizing that once tracking and tracing systems are in place, these could help to defray some of the costs of implementing and sustaining the Protocol implementation.” Low and lower-middle-income countries, in particular, have identified that they are struggling with implementation of the Protocol.
Unless there is a substantial amount of technical and financial assistance in the budget from secured funding sources, the Protocol might not be successful or become an instrument in the hands of Big Tobacco.
IIn the subsequent budgets for the Protocol over the period 2018-2025, the financial support for technical assistance has been very low. Of course, the tobacco companies are ready “to help” and to provide donations, propose their “expertise” or even offer their software to generate the unique identifiers for the tracking and tracing systems. Unless there is a substantial amount of technical and financial assistance in the budget from secured funding sources, the Protocol might not be successful or become an instrument in the hands of Big Tobacco. Parties can also start discussing how to most effectively mobilize domestic resources in order to reap the fiscal and public health benefits of the Protocol.
The Protocol is a law enforcement treaty and needs technical and law enforcement expertise for its implementation. Collaboration with qualified and independent experts is necessary. We consider the collaboration of the Secretariat with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) for the set-up of the interim solution of the Global Information-Sharing Focal Point as very positive. We need more input from qualified experts and specialized agencies such as UNICC. Parties struggle with the establishment of tracking and tracing systems or with the complex systems to generate unique, secure and non-removable identification markings on all outside tobacco packaging. Tobacco industry interference generating unique identifiers can be avoided if the tobacco industry does not generate them, nor a third company on their behalf, or without the use of software provided by tobacco companies and their affiliates. In our opinion, software for generating unique identifiers could come, for instance, from specialized agencies such as UNICC. More technical and financial assistance for low and middle-income countries has been the main message of civil society over the last 6 years.