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Protests call for tobacco operating license reversal

‘SELLING POISON’:Allowing a Japanese tobacco plant to operate would encourage domestic smoking and turn Taiwan into an export hub for cigarettes, protesters said

The Executive Yuan should revoke the operating license for a massive new Japanese-owned tobacco factory, anti-smoking advocates said yesterday, blasting the government for approving the investment and providing subsidies.

“We do not want Taiwan to become a center for selling poison,” said Taiwan Medical Alliance for the Control of Tobacco founder Wen Chi-pang (溫啟邦), a professor at China Medical University, alongside 20 protesters from the John Tung Foundation and other groups outside the Executive Yuan in Taipei.

The protesters said that the Ministry of Finance should not have issued an operating license to Japan Tobacco International’s new factory in the Tainan Technology Industrial Park.

Japan Tobacco’s NT$9.2 billion (US$290.1 million) investment is reportedly to produce enough cigarettes to cover one-third of local consumption, becoming the nation’s second foreign-owned tobacco factory, following the establishment of an Imperial Tobacco factory in Miaoli County in 2009.

The groups say that the Japan Tobacco factory will encourage domestic smoking, while turning the nation into a base for exporting cigarettes to an export base to Southeast Asia because of favorable government incentives.

“The government says it is bringing in foreign investment, but a lot of the funds are coming out of taxpayers’ pockets,” foundation tobacco control division head Lin Ching-li (林清麗) said, adding that the government should not have granted the factory use of a 7.6-hectare site, as well as utility incentives and property tax exemptions.

Japan Tobacco will be able to use the factory to skirt cigarette tariffs, Lin said.

“Japanese firms plan to turn Taiwan into a huge factory base, but the government was too stupid to foresee this ‘beggar thy neighbor’ behavior,” foundation chief executive officer Yao Shi-yuan (姚思遠) said.

Yao criticized the government for allowing Japanese investment in the tobacco industry using the Arrangement for the Mutual Cooperation on the Liberalization, Promotion and Protection of Investment (投資自由化促進及保護協議) negotiated in 2011.

He said the government could still revoke the company’s license, as long as it provided compensation.

Lin Hsin-ho (林信和), a professor of law at Chinese Culture University, said that allowing the factory to begin operations could oblige the nation to allow similar investment from other nation’s according to the WTO’s most-favored-nation status provisions.

Lin added that the government’s approval breached the spirit of the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals (外國人投資條例), which forbids foreign investment in industries that have an adverse effect on public health.

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