Indonesia - trade minister officials want to meet with US counterparts to discuss ban on clove cigarettes..

Kretek - crackling sound of burning cloves.
November 4, 2009 - Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said government officials would soon meet with their US counterparts to discuss the ban.

Kretek cigarettes were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration on September 21st on the grounds that their sweet flavor encouraged young people to take up smoking.

“We will arrange a meeting and will be having consultations to seek a fair solution to this matter,” Mari told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday, November 3rd. The discussions, Mari said, are a preliminary response, but if no solution is found, then “at the end, it will be taken to the World Trade Organization (WTO).”

Mari said previously that the ban was highly detrimental to this country’s clove farmers and was in breach of WTO rules. Particularly galling to the Indonesian side, observers say, is the fact that menthol cigarettes were exempted from the ban on flavored cigarettes on the grounds that to prohibit them would only encourage bootlegging.

The US ban is clearly being taken seriously here. As the world’s largest maker of kretek cigarettes, the country exports about $500 million worth a year, with about a fifth going to the US market, according to Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Indonesia’s ambassador in Washington. In total, Indonesia supplied an estimated 99 percent of the US market for kretek.

However, all may not be lost. In the immediate aftermath of the ban, a canny California importer, Kretek International, attempted to get around it by relabelling the pungent sticks as cigars, only to be firmly told by the FDA that they were still cigarettes and still banned. (U.S. - Importer tries to get around clove cigarettes ban..)

The company, which imports Djarum-brand tobacco products, gave the kreteks a makeover by wrapping them in tobacco leaves, rather than thin papers and marketing them in packs of 12 cigarettes, rather than 20. Rather tellingly, the price worked out as the same cost as a pack of normal kretek cigarettes.

The Wall Street Journal reported on October 28 that the FDA “reminded the public that its ban applies to anything that fits a cigarette’s profile, even if it’s labeled as a ‘cigar’.” The US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce announced that it would conduct an investigation to discover whether the clove cigars were in fact nothing more than relabeled clove cigarettes, the Journal reported. (Clove cigars close but not cigarettes..)

Kretek International is apparently not going to take the issue lying down and is now seeking a declaratory ruling from the US District Court in Washington that its cigars are not cigarettes and can therefore be freely sold. In its petition, it accused the FDA of “deliberately obfuscating” the definition of cigarette,” adding that “If a product is a cigar, it is not a cigarette, and vice versa.”

Reference: Indonesia Seeks to Clear the Air Over US Kretek Ban, Dian Ariffahmi, Jakarta Globe, 11/3/1009.

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