Month: February 2021

Video: ‘Science over unjustified cautiousness:’ Why UK should abandon Europe’s biotech crop rules

Many groups, including the Consumer Choice Center, have endorsed genetic technologies, and there is good reason to expect the UK government to finally choose science over unjustified cautiousness inherent to EU regulations.

“Boris Johnson has repeatedly mentioned his willingness to liberate the UK’s “extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules.” Such a policy would be a huge win for consumers and farmers, and at the same time it would also signal a momentous drift away from the European Union’s unjustified cautiousness towards these new technologies,” said Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

We at the Consumer Choice Center call on the UK government to take the path of more consumer choice and more science …. What are the benefits of enabling genetic engineering in the UK?

  • Approving GM pest-resistant crops could save about £60 million ($79 million) a year in pesticide use in the UK
  • More trade opportunities, including a trade deal with the US.
  • Improved agricultural performance with less labour and energy input and less cost input.
  • Reduced usage of pesticides and herbicides.

Originally published here.

The German approach to freedom of expression and its absurd consequences

The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic constitutional state in which basic civil liberties are protected by law and law enforcement.

The most important aspects of freedom of expression are mentioned in the Bonn Basic Law; they are the fundamental rights. That includes freedom of art, property, freedom of assembly, freedom of profession, freedom of opinion and other basic rights that we take for granted today. However, as history teaches us, they are not.

The German understanding of fundamental rights is characterised by a scheme that is self-evident for every law student after the second semester at the latest: these fundamental rights can be restricted, depending on the circumstances provided, or, in different terms: an encroachment on fundamental rights is permitted if there is a justification. Like the Federal Constitutional Court, every student therefore first asks in a case: is the complainant covered by the personal scope of protection of the fundamental right (does this fundamental right apply to everyone, or only to German citizens?)? Is the complainant’s conduct covered by the factual scope of protection of the fundamental right? If this is the case, the question is whether there is an encroachment, in order to ask in the third step whether this is justified (different for fundamental rights of equality and fundamental rights to benefits).

Freedom of expression protects expressions of opinion: statements that have an element of evaluation are therefore covered; statements of fact are not covered by the scope of protection of freedom of opinion. Furthermore, freedom of expression can be restricted by general law, laws for the protection of minors and the right to personal honour (in the realm of defamation lawsuits).

This is also the biggest difference to the second model, namely the USA. The differences already exist in the name of the fundamental right. Unlike in Germany, in the USA we speak of the “Freedom of Speech”. The First Amendment is unparalleled in its clarity. It states quite simply that the legislature may not establish a law that restricts freedom of speech. So it is the opposite of the German understanding: there cannot be any level of justification in the USA, because encroachments on freedom of speech by the state are simply forbidden by the constitution.

A brief example to illustrate the extent of the differences: “In an argument about the limits of the Basic Law, Max loses his nerve and calls his colleague Erika an idiot.”

If American law applies, this rude and insulting, but essentially harmless, statement entails no consequences. If German law applies, however, Max is liable to prosecution for insult under §185 StGB. If Erika files a complaint, Max faces a fine – and if Max is a repeat offender who has been punished with the paragraph many times in the past, he may even go to prison for it.

We are talking here about a quite clear example where one can argue very well for §185 StGB. But it is much more absurd. In the 1990s, for example, the courts had to deal with the question of whether a provocative “duzen” (the German informal “you”) should be regarded as an insult. The case went all the way to the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf. Those readers who find the case as absurd as I do can breathe a sigh of relief, because the Higher Regional Court ruled that this was not a punishable offence. 

The insult paragraph protects the legal good of honour, which is defined in various ways, which is not surprising because each of us will understand something different by honour. For example, the (probably) prevailing opinion defines honour as the “personal (“inner”) value of validity accruing to a person as a bearer of spiritual and moral values, on the one hand, and the social (“outer”) value of validity of a person, i.e. his or her actual good reputation in human society, on the other (definition: Urs Kindhäuser, Strafrecht BT I §22 Rn.2, 8th edition 2017; see also BGH, 18.11.1957 – GSSt 2/57, marginal no. 17).

In this context, according to the prevailing opinion, not only the honour of the individual is protected, but also that of associations of persons, such as companies, clubs, political parties, etc. It is claimed here that honour is a condition of existence in law, especially in the social, interpersonal sphere.

Even for insulting a company or another association of persons, one can be punished if a certain situation exists. This is because the prevailing opinion within jurisprudence argues that some of these associations can only function within a society if their work is not discredited, which is why they are equally worthy of protection as individuals. There are some problems with this argument, even when applied only to individuals.

On the one hand, the work, activity or even the entire person can be discredited without committing a criminal offence. So one can discredit another person even within the limits of the law. 

On the other hand, there are states in which the protection of honour has a much lower value than in the German legal system. A good example of this is the USA, where, for example, insulting someone is not a punishable offence. Yet the United States of America exists.

This part of the argumentation of the German lawyers is difficult to justify and that even with a careful interpretation of the statements… At most, one could argue that the criminal law protection of honour positively influences, or promotes, these activities and legal interests. However, this is difficult to prove.

Finally, the negative effects of such a legal system are often overlooked. As a result, it is incredibly difficult to distinguish a statement of fact from an evaluative statement. It is even more difficult to prove whether a statement is offensive: language and society are dynamic. Even if the courts are careful in their interpretation and use of criminal law (and fortunately this can indeed be said in Germany), so-called “freezing effects” arise even in a democratic constitutional state like Germany, where supposedly unpunishable statements are not made because of fear of a legal dispute, or of prosecution per se. So one prefers to be cautious and say nothing at all because one wants to avoid legal problems.

The example of the USA shows that it can be done differently. Insults, hate speech, flag burning is allowed in the USA and the state not only exists but is probably the wealthiest in the world. Criminal law is the “last resort” of the legal system and should be used as rarely as possible. In this isolated case, the American system does more justice to this principle; in others, the German system has clear advantages. We can and should learn from each other.

If one wants to achieve basic protection of honour, or of the person, against defamation and slander, civil law would be the far better alternative. It is far more important to compensate the victim for his or her damage than to put the perpetrator in prison. Because no one should be behind bars for making statements. Whoever thinks that should cast the first stone.

Originally published here.

Miljard gram cannabis opgeslagen zonder verkocht te worden

BNN Bloomberg kondigde deze week aan dat een miljard gram legale pot in Canada onverkocht in magazijnen in het hele land ligt te verstoffen. De vraag rijst waarom deze cannabis niet wordt gebruikt om cbd-olie van te maken.

Dat is heel veel wiet. Een voorraad die genoeg zou moeten zijn om drie jaar vooruit te kunnen. Door de steeds hogere eisen die de consument stelt aan zijn cannabisproduct ligt veel cannabis uit het middensegment nu te verstoffen in magazijnen. “Je kunt echter geen THC-producten uit het middensegment voor een cent weggeven,” vertelde Peter Machalek, vice-president verkoop en partnerschappen bij TREC Brand, aan Bloomberg. “De markt is veel geavanceerder geworden en volgt wat de consumenten eisen.”

CBD-olie van onverkochte cannabis

Het roept de vraag op waarom een deel van die miljard gram niet is gebruikt om CBD-olie van te maken. De niet-bedwelmende stof die voor veel mensen wordt gebruikt als natuurlijk medicijn tegen hoofdpijn, rugklachten, slechte knieën, artritis, angststoornissen en tal van andere klachten, aandoeningen en bijbehorende pijnen. Het is een bonafide elixer voor veroudering en pijn.

Het probleem is echter dat CBD-olie, ondanks dat ze geen high geeft, nog steeds onder de Cannabiswet valt en daarom net zo streng gereguleerd is als THC. Een lastige markt die zelfs de meest bescheiden vormen van reclame en branding verhindert. David Clement, de Noord-Amerikaanse zakenmanager voor het Consumer Choice Center, gelooft dat de overvloed aan wietproducten gedeeltelijk kan worden tegengegaan door CBD-olie uit de Cannabis Act te verwijderen. Hierdoor kunnen bepaalde extracten en dranken worden verkocht bij reguliere retailers en in supermarkten.

“Vanuit het oogpunt van consumentenbescherming en volksgezondheid is er geen redelijke rechtvaardiging om CBD-producten zo strikt te reguleren als THC”, zegt Clement. “Naar onze mening is de Cannabiswet te restrictief. Wanneer CBD-producten uit de wetgeving worden verwijderd, zouden CBD-producten op grotere schaal beschikbaar komen, wat het probleem van het overaanbod zou kunnen verlichten.

Overschot aan cannabisproducten

“Bovendien moet de federale overheid de marketing-, merk- en verpakkingsbeperkingen die momenteel gelden voor legale producenten versoepelen”, zegt Clement. Volgens het Bloomberg-rapport heeft Health Canada eindelijk branchegegevens voor oktober vrijgegeven, waaruit blijkt dat 1,1 miljoen kilo onverkochte cannabis door producenten in het hele land is opgeslagen.

Met Canada’s maandelijkse consumptie van ongeveer 30.000 kilo, betekent dit dat er een voorraad van drie jaar inactief is. Er lijkt echter licht aan het einde van de tunnel om dit probleem kan verlichten. Health Canada zal waarschijnlijk binnenkort beslissen of CBD-olie ver vrij verkrijgbare gezondheids- en welzijnsproducten mag voorkomen. Later dit jaar wordt een formeel besluit verwacht. Het is een wildcard die een game-changer zou kunnen zijn voor de markt, maar is nu nog steeds een longshot.

Originally published here.

Understanding “hazard” and “risk”

A lot of the Brussels conversation over the precautionary principle is misguided.

By 2030, the European Union’s “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides significantly. The EU deals in percentages of the total use of chemical substances it wants to cut, whether or not their scientific safety assessment was in any shape or form negative. This in essence makes it a political ambition, not an evidence-based policy.

When reading articles, blog posts, or policy papers related to the use of pesticides, we often hear the word “hazard”. “Highly-hazardous” chemicals or substances are in the focus of many environmental groups, who demand that the EU cleans up its act on the alleged ‘poison’ in our food. Theirs is a misunderstanding of the scientific meaning of “hazard” and “risk”

Risk-based regulation manages exposure to hazards. For instance, the sun is a hazard when going to the beach, yet sunlight enables the body’s production of vitamin D and some exposure to it is essential to human health. As with everything else, it is the amount of exposure that matters. A hazard-based regulatory approach to sunlight would shut us all indoors and ban all beach excursions, rather than caution beach-goers to limit their exposure by applying sunscreen. The end result would be to harm, not protect human health. 

The same logic of hazard-based regulation is all too often applied in crop protection regulation, where it creates equally absurd inconsistencies. For instance, if wine was sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under EU law, as alcohol is a known and quite potent carcinogen at high levels of consumption. All this is rationalized through an inconsistent and distorted application of the precautionary principle. In essence, hazard-based regulation advocates would endorse outlawing all crop protection methods that cannot be proven completely safe at any level, no matter how unrealistic — a standard which, if applied consistently, would outlaw every organic food, every life-saving drug, and indeed every natural and synthetic substance. 

By ignoring the importance of the equation Risk = Hazard x Exposure, hazard-based regulation does not follow a scientifically sound policy-making approach.

As risk-management expert David Zaruk writes on his blog The Risk-Monger:

“So why then are there individuals in Brussels who think that a regulator’s job is to remove all hazards, regardless of our ability to control exposure to the hazard, regardless of the limited exposure levels, regardless of the lost benefits? For these lobbyists (often activists for environmental-health NGOs), a hazard is considered as identical to a risk (regardless of exposure) and the regulatory goal (for them) is to remove all hazards. They support the approach known as: Hazard-based regulation.

Hazard-based regulation implies that the only way to manage risks is to remove the hazard. If synthetic pesticides are hazardous, remove them. If we cannot be certain that a chemical has no effect on our endocrine system (at any dose), then deny authorisation.”

This concept of differentiating hazard and risk in the scientific and regulatory language is also supported by EFSA — the European Food Safety Authority, which advises the European Union on things such as chemical approvals.

Understanding hazard and risk is essential when addressing all questions as they relate to the precautionary principle. Artificial intelligence is prone to fall victim to a similar level of over-regulation the advocates of extreme caution get their way. Instead, the European Union should choose the road to innovation. Evidence-based policy-making is about assessing risks, but it is also about managing risks for the sake of allowing for innovation while ironing out problems as they appear. 

We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in the global race for innovative technology because we are too afraid of changes.

Originally published here.

Vaping is the gateway out of smoking

Recent trends framing e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking do not stand up to scrutiny, write the Consumer Choice Center’s Maria Chaplia and World Vapers’ Alliance’s Michael Landl.

The innovative nature of vaping has contributed to its success and allowed it to quickly gain popularity among smokers. At the same time, because it is a novel technology, it has also been met with suspicion across the world – especially in the European Union.

Aside from targeting the harm-reduction nature of vaping, some of the recent criticism has also sought to frame vaping as a gateway to conventional smoking. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and the longer the European Union continues to demonise vaping, the fewer smokers get a chance to switch to a safer and healthier alternative. We know enough about vaping to endorse it at EU level.

The newest Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK report states that “only 0.3 percent of never-smokers are current vapers (amounting to 2.9 percent of vapers)”. Therefore, a gateway effect to smoking is not reflected in the data and many studies show the opposite effect. For example, smoking rates in the UK – where public health authorities encourage vaping as a gateway out of smoking – are at an all-time low and there is no sign of vaping causing more smoking.

Moreover, countries that adopt harm reduction policies see better results in reducing smoking compared to more restrictive countries. One of the latter examples is Australia, which is very hostile to vaping. This hostility has consequences: the rate of decline of smoking rates is much slower compared to the United States or the UK which are more vaping friendly countries. Since 2013 when vaping became popular, the adult smoking rates have reduced significantly. In the UK, approximately 25 percent fewer people smoke today compared to 2013, while  the US has seen a 24 percent reduction. For the same period, Australia saw a decline of only 8 percent.

“Recent trends framing e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking do not stand up to scrutiny. E-cigarettes are a gateway out of smoking”

The correlation between the introduction and the popularity of vaping and declining smoking rates suggests that vaping is an important innovation to help people quit smoking. The 2018 US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report found that the smoking rate has decreased overall more rapidly since vaping became more prominent in the United States.

The landmark report on vaping’s potential to save lives was commissioned by Public Health England in 2015, providing evidence that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco and has thus become a recommended means of quitting for smokers in the United Kingdom. FranceCanada and New Zealand followed their lead.

It is important to keep in mind that demand for cigarettes per se is inelastic, and measures such as advertising bans, plain packaging, and taxes have not proved to be effective in reducing smoking rates. Vaping, on the contrary, serves as a viable alternative that provides smokers with an opportunity to reduce health-associated risks and eventually quit smoking.

The effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool is undeniable as it targets smokers as opposed to non-smokers. Recent trends framing e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking do not stand up to scrutiny. E-cigarettes are a gateway out of smoking. Anti-vaping measures are disastrous and detrimental to the health of smokers for whom vaping has become a life-saving tool. Policymakers must reconsider their approach to vaping. Despite many voices seeking to undermine vaping as a gateway out of smoking, the evidence is sound: vaping saves lives.

Originally published here.

GMOs: Europe risks missing out on a revolution

While genetic engineering progress promises to revolutionise many sectors, Europe remains very committed to its precautionary principle…

While genetic engineering progress promises to revolutionise many sectors, Europe remains very committed to its precautionary principle. Nowhere is regulation as prohibitive as in Europe!

If the European Union is proud of its precautionary principle, it is, unfortunately, nothing to boast about. The latest innovations in genetic engineering open up unprecedented prospects for humanity: the challenge is not to miss out on such a revolution.

Gene therapy, for example, makes it possible to treat rare diseases of genetic origin. Thanks to regulations favourable to innovation and experimentation, the United States has become one of the world’s leading centres for research into gene therapy, including treatments for sickle cell disease, fatal muscle diseases, HIV and many types of cancer. Britain has also distinguished itself from other European countries by becoming the first country in the world to allow mitochondrial replacement therapy. Across the Atlantic, this technique has already saved a child from Leigh’s Syndrome, a disease that affects the nervous system.

Genetic modification also promises to revolutionise modern agriculture. Thanks to GM crops, it is already possible to produce drought-resistant plants and animals – a significant advantage in the fight against climate change. Genetic engineering can also make crops more resistant to disease, increase their yield and even their fibre content – or conversely reduce their trans fatty acid content. For example, Brazil has developed a tomato-rich in antioxidants and a soybean resistant to a plant pest that destroys crops and reduces yields. 

Finally, new techniques are also safer. Indeed, it should be pointed out that the type of genetic engineering differs from the techniques that result in GMO crops, or biomedicines such as insulin, produced by transgenesis. Here we are talking about GMOs obtained by directed mutagenesis. This technique is similar to the genetic mutations that can occur in nature, except that it allows precise control of these mutations and accelerates the course of biological evolution. 

As biochemist Jean-Yves Déaut points out in an interview for the journal European Scientist, “the scientific world agrees that the technologies developed in NBT (new breeding technologies) are more precise and present fewer risks than the old methods”.

However, the European Union remains blind to these latest advances. On 25 July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided, instead of adapting the interpretation of the law to the new technological reality, to completely ignore the evolution of scientific knowledge: “organisms obtained by mutagenesis constitute GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down in the GMO Directive”. The EU, therefore, makes no legal distinction between different generations of GMOs. 

All the more so as the GMO Directive (Directive 2001-18) to which the ECJ refers is already very restrictive.  In its spirit, as Marcel Kuntz, a researcher at the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) explains, it authorises the dissemination of GMOs that are recognised as safe. In reality, he continues, this means that “when an issue becomes controversial in the media (…), it will be necessary to demonstrate zero risks, which is of course impossible”. The GMO directive, therefore, provides the naturalist clan with a legal basis to block any innovation. 

As Catherine Regnault-Roger, a member of the French Academy of Agriculture, points out, “in addition to scientific opinions, there is a political phase of votes by the Member States and the European Parliament, which give rise to debates in which scientific considerations are not at the heart of the debate”. 

Therefore, the systematic suspicion towards GMOs today reflects less a scientific consensus on the subject than an anti-progressive ideology inspired by an idealised vision of nature on the one hand, and a demonisation of the human spirit on the other. 

To prevent pressure groups from depriving consumers of the latest technological advances for ideological reasons, as is the case today, the Consumer Choice Center advocates replacing this aberrant regulation with a genuine “Principle of Innovation” which would let scientific agencies independently determine the effectiveness and safety of products. 

Instead of serving as a rational basis for political decision-making, science is entirely subject to the precautionary ideology’s diktat. At a time when science and innovation are the answer to the significant challenges of the 21st century, such subordination amounts to shooting oneself in the foot.  

Europeans should ask themselves the following question: “Who will be responsible if, in the future, we have still not cured today’s diseases with tomorrow’s technology, simply because unfounded fears have got in our way?”. Yesterday’s regulations are no longer adapted to today’s technologies and tomorrow’s progress. We need regulation that looks to the future, not to the past.

Originally published here.

Set CBD oil free from the restrictive Cannabis Act

Despite providing no high, it’s as strictly regulated as THC

Perhaps due to the thriving marijuana black market — cheaper prices, higher THC content, a reliable dealer? — BNN Bloomberg announced this week a billion grams of legal pot is sitting unsold in vaults across the country.

That’s a lot of weed, supposedly a three-year supply for the struggling legal market that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assumed would flourish to extraordinary heights and put the illegal marketeers out of business.

Alas, the Trudeau Liberals’ legalization of recreational marijuana has not lived up to those expectations.

“You can’t give away mid-range THC product for a buck now,” Peter Machalek, vice-president of sales and partnerships at TREC Brand, told Bloomberg. “The market has become much more sophisticated, following what the consumers are demanding.”

It begs the question then why those billion grams have not been used to make the non-intoxicating CBD oil, seen by millions as relief from bad headaches, bad backs, bad knees, the creaks of the aging process, and a long list of other bodily afflictions and accompanying pains.

Those that use it swear by it once they have found the sweet spot when it comes to the amount needed to work its magic.

It’s a bonafide elixir for the aging and the pain-stricken.

The problem, however, is that CBD oil, despite providing no high, still falls under the Cannabis Act and is therefore as strictly regulated as THC.

It also exists in a challenging market that prevents even the most modest forms of advertising and branding.

David Clement is North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, and he believes today’s pot glut can be partially alleviated by removing CBD oil from the Cannabis Act, thereby allowing for products like extracts and beverages to be sold at retailers more commonplace for Canadian consumers such as health food outlets and grocery stores.

“From a consumer protection standpoint, there is no reasonable justification to regulate CBD products as strictly as we regulate THC,” says Clement. “In our view, the Cannabis Act is overly restrictive, and removing CBD products from the legislation would mean that CBD products would become more widely available, which could help ease the issue of oversupply,

“Additionally, the federal government should ease up on the marketing, branding and packaging restrictions that currently apply for legal producers,” says Clement.

“From the outset, we thought that these regulations were overly paternalistic, and handcuffed the legal industry from effectively communicating and advertising to adult consumers.”

According to the Bloomberg report, Health Canada finally released industry-wide data for October showing that 1.1 million kilos of unsold cannabis has been stockpiled by producers nationwide.

With Canada’s monthly consumption rate of pot pegged at approximately 30,000 kilos, it means a three-year supply is sitting idle.

It’s an overload that analysts tell Bloomberg continues to “weigh heavily on the industry, possibly spelling further write-downs and facility closures in the months to come.”

Five will get you 10 that this never crossed the mind of the Liberals when they were conjuring the wording for legalization legislation that very quickly started circling the bowl.

The illegal market could not be busier or happier.

But some breathing room might be on its way with Health Canada expected to rule soon on whether to allow CBD oil to be used in over-the-counter health and wellness products.

A formal decision is expected later this year.

It’s a wild card which could be a game-changer if the Trudeau Liberals have learned anything from their screwups at every turn on the cannabis legalization file.

But it’s still a longshot.

Originally published here.

EU crackdown on vaping is bad news for public health

The Beating Cancer Plan will make vaping harder.

The leaked Commission proposal for the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan has revealed the bloc’s plans to make harm reducing products such as vaping devices harder to access and consume in the European Union. Under this proposal, the EU would hike taxation rules on vaping products to match those of conventional cigarettes, treating those products as equivalent threats to human health.

This ignores existing public health research. As Public Health England has confirmed, vaping is 95% safer than conventional tobacco. Adding to that, vaping has consistently been shown to be an effective method of fuelling smoking cessation, i.e. helping those smokers who choose to quit, to do so. With such an innovation, the EU should rejoice in the existence of tobacco alternatives that offer a solution —- something policy-makers have not managed to achieve through brute policy for decades.

Increasing taxation levels will increase the price of vaping products, and give many smokers yet another reason not to quit, which would be terrible news for public health. In many EU member states, cigarette prices are at such high levels that they have already fueled the rise of black-market producers. A blanket tax hike can, therefore, produce one of two results: either it will fuel an equally sizable black market for vaping (which is currently a more economical solution for consumers than cigarettes in many countries), or it will lead many vapers returning to the more harmful option of smoking.

Another suggestion made by the European Commission is the phasing-out and eventual restriction of vape flavours. Vaping devices are known for their fancy flavour options, from traditional fruit flavours to more extravagant ones. Smokers switch to vaping precisely because of these flavour options. Phasing them out would reduce that incentive. 

Well-intended policy-makers believe this proposal would prevent teens from using these products. But vaping is, and remains, something that should only be used by informed adults. There may be examples of underaged people who have acquired vape devices and liquids, but this is far from the fault of responsible adult users and law-abiding retailers. Governments should impose harsher fines on retailers and other individuals who facilitate the sale of vapes to minors, yet recognise that vaping represents a real opportunity for adult users.

The Commission is also proposing to restrict vaping in public areas, similar to cigarettes. Here again, we should appeal to the common sense of vapers to behave responsibly and respectfully in public places, without needing to equate vaping with smoking. And without encroaching on member state jurisdiction. 

Creating more hurdles for smokers to switch to innovative vaping solutions is a step in the wrong direction — this EU proposal would actively destroy much of the healthier transition that former smokers have made in the last years.

Hopefully, the European Parliament will take a more nuanced point of view. Some parliamentarians have expressed the will to include vaping as a smoking cessation tool in the final proposal, and experts testifying in EP committees have underlined that this is based on scientific evidence. The Parliament now needs to put its foot down, and strongly oppose the Commission narrative on vaping.

Governments have tried for decades to get people off smoking and have had limited impact. The true innovations have arisen from market solutions like vaping.  Why not allow innovative solutions to be explored and endorsed, especially when government scientific agencies are confirming their safety? If it’s really about beating cancer, then let’s do it together, not against the science.

Originally published here.

Pentingnya Perlindungan Hak Kekayaan Intelektual untuk Revolusi Digital

Revolusi digital saat ini merupakan fenomena yang tidak bisa kita pisahkan dari kehidupan kita sehari-hari, khususnya kita yang hidup di kota-kota besar di seluruh dunia. Berbagai teknologi yang dihasilkan oleh revolusi digital, khususnya di bidang teknologi informasi, seperti internet dan smartphone, telah kesehariaan jutaan orang di seluruh dunia untuk melakukan pekerjaan dan kegiatan mereka.

Melalui jaringan internet dan smartphone misalnya kita bisa melakukan berbagai kegiatan sehari-hari dengan lebih mudah, seperti memesan transportasi, penginapan, makanan, hingga mencari navigasi ketika bepergian. Tidak hanya itu, berkat semakin berkembangnya jaringan internet dan teknologi gadget, kita juga semakin mudah dalam mencari pengetahuan, dan bisa mengakses informasi dari seluruh dunia dengan cepat dan terjangkau.

Tidak bisa dipungkiri, perkembangan teknologi yang sangat pesat ini merupakan hal yang tidak diperkirakan oleh banyak orang berdekade-dekade yang lalu. Di masa lalu, hampir semua orang tidak membayangkan bahwa di masa depan, kita bisa memiliki alat multifungsi yang tidak bisa dipisahkan dari keseharian kita, untuk melakukan kegiatan sehari-hari, hingga mengakses informasi dari seluruh dunia.

Perkembangan teknologi secara global, merupakan sesuatu yang tidak bisa kita hentikan. Kemajuan teknologi, termasuk juga revolusi digital, adalah sesuatu yang akan terus berjalan dan berkembang dengan pesat dari tahun ke tahun. Oleh karena itu, agar tidak tertinggal, kita harus mampu bersaing melalui pengembangan ilmu pengetahuan dan meningkatkan inovasi.

Meningkatkan inovasi tentu merupakan sesuatu yang tidak bisa diabaikan agar kita mampu tetap bersaing dan tidak tertinggal dalam bidang revolusi digital. Tanpa adanya inovasi, tentu kita akan semakin tertinggal, dan tidak akan mampu bersaing di dunia yang semakin bergantung pada perkembangan teknologi.

Untuk itu, adanya seperangkat hukum dan kebijakan yang mendorong inovasi untuk meningkatkan daya saing di era digital adalah hal yang sangat penting. Salah satu dari kebijakan tersebut adalah perlindungan terhadap hak kekayaan intelektual, untuk mendorong inovasi yang dilakukan oleh para inovator dan orang-orang yang memiliki kreativitas yang tinggi, yang mencakup berbagai jenis, seperti hak cipta, paten, dan merek (computerweekly.com, 18/4/2018).

Perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual tentu merupakan hal yang sangat penting, terlebih lagi di era digital seperti saat ini. Kemajuan teknologi telah semakin memberi kemudahan bagi setiap orang untuk membajak dan mencuri hasil karya orang lain untuk keuntungannya sendiri. Hal ini tentu akan sangat merugikan para inovator dan orang-orang yang menjadi pembuat karya tersebut, karena mereka tidak mampu mengambil manfaat dari karya yang mereka buat.

Tanpa adanya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, insentif seseorang untuk berkreasi dan berinovasi tentu akan semakin berkurang. Dengan demikian, maka kemajuan dan perkembangan teknologi akan semakin terhambat, dan tidak mustahil justru akan membawa kemunduran.

Pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di era digital ini juga merupakan hal yang disampaikan dan diadvokasi oleh banyak pihak, termasuk pejabat tinggi di Indonesia. Salah tsatu pejabat tinggi yang menyatakan hal tersebut adalah Menteri Hukum dan HAM.
Menteri Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia, Yasonna Laoly, dalam sesi kuliah umum virtual Pekan Kekayaan Intelektual Universitas Indonesia, menyatakan bahwa “Peran kekayaan intelektual dalam era baru Revolusi Industri 4.0 memiliki posisi yang sangat penting. Kekayaan intelektual sebagai fondasi dari ekonomi kreatif diharapkan dapat menjadi competitive advantage sekaligus pendorong perekonomian nasional,” (AntaraNews.com, 27/11/2020).

Pernyataan yang dikeluarkan oleh Menteri Hukum dan HAM ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat positif dan harus kita apresiasi. Sebagaimana yang kita ketahui, secara umum, perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, khususnya yang berkaitan dengan produk-produk digital, masih belum terlalu kuat di Indonesia.

Bila kita pergi ke toko-toko atau pusat perbelanjaan misalnya, dengan mudah kita bisa mendapatkan berbagai produk digital bajakan dengan harga yang sangat murah, Diharapkan, melalui pernyataan yang dikeluarkan oleh Menteri Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia tersebut , Pemerintah Indonesia dapat semakin memperbaiki perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di negara kita, untuk meningkatkan daya saing Indonesia di era revolusi digital saat ini.

Sebagai penutup, pengetahuan dan ide-ide baru yang kreatif merupakan sumber daya yang tidak ternilai bagi ekonomi global di era digital seperti saat ini. Bila kita tidak mampu mengembangkan pengetahuan dan menemukan ide-ide baru yang kreatif, maka kita tidak akan mampu beradaptasi dan bersaing di era revolusi digital saat ini. Untuk itu, adanya seperangkat hukum yang mencegah terjadinya pencurian ide-ide kreatif dalam bentuk hak kekayaan intelektual adalah hal yang sangat penting.

Originally published here.

The Need for Competition in India’s Telecom Industry

Explaining the Indian Telecommunication industry and the complexity behind competition existence?

The Indian telecommunication industry has experienced exponential growth and development in the past two decades. Liberalization and regulatory reforms allowed the sector to accept investments from both domestic and foreign investors.

The non-restrictive policy of the government in the 1990s allowed the inflow of cash for the sector to flourish. Private players were allowed in the market after a process of establishment of norms and regulations vital for the growth of the sector.

This was done as a part of the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation policies that the government undertook to overcome the fiscal crisis and balance of payment issues in 1991. The institution of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India was established by the government to reduce its interference in deciding the tariffs and policies.

Towards the 20th century, the government was more inclined toward reforms and liberalism. This brought more private players and foreign investors to the Indian market. Furthermore, the license fees were greatly reduced that allowed every middle-class family in India to afford a cellphone, and thereby input more surplus to the entire telecom sector. In the Indian telecom sector during the late 90s and early 20s,  the liberal policies became paramount, I would quote this as what Prof Eli. M. Noam referred to as, “the centrality of telecommunication infrastructure is a country’s economic and social life.” 

Telecom performance reports showed that about 10-14 mobile providers were existing in the country during the time and at least 5-6 providers were providing services in each of the connected areas. The competitive forces exerted by these players aided the adoption of wireless services and also helped reduce tariffs throughout. 

Despite the major policy initiatives of the past, the telecom sector is now on the verge of collapse. After years of growth, the sector is witnessing a fall due to the commercial operation of Reliance Jio. The change in tariff rates and reduction of data charges by Reliance Jio changed the economics of many telecom players. This facilitated their exit from the telecom sector.

The declining user base and increasing adjusted gross revenue made it difficult for healthy competition to equivalently exist among players. Low revenues, high taxation policies, and huge investments on spectrum and infrastructure have been causing dire trouble to the industry thereby impeding competition in the Indian telecom market.

How can one bring back competition in a scenario of restrictions and the existence of a soon-to-be-monopolized telecom sector? 

The companies are being pushed by the regulatory bodies to align the prices in line with the costs of production, and this makes it difficult for competition to exist. In a digital India, the telecom sector needs survival, and for this, we need three players who are not on the brink of a dire financial crisis. The sector needs decentralization of purchasing and decision power to regulate more efficiently. The profit margins are decreasing and telcos need to level up the information and communications information to adapt to a digital transformed way. This can be done by creating a strong cross-functional interface.

IT and connectivity should be updated and should be reliant on technological innovations and customer expectations. Establishing policies to abolish the license fee based on adjusted gross revenue needs to be looked into. The adoption of regulatory disclosures and transparent norms to address the asymmetry in the telecom industry needs to be established. One can note that effective competition can be incorporated through three concepts: “Allocative efficiency, technical efficiency, and dynamic efficiency.” 

To increase profits, the market power exercised by the company should not be restricted. This would help in efficiently allocating the resources and contributing to the economy invariance to the price adjustments to the consumer needs. There needs to be an initiation of equilibrium between promoting competition and checking anti-competitive practices. Being a capital intensive sector, competition needs to be incited by operators who would lower the costs through production efficiency and keep up with the latest economic models about digital trends.

There needs to be the symmetry of information and proper economic and policy legislations for competition impact assessment to easily get processed. Bringing in VNOs (virtual network operators) to buy bulk capacity from telcos for resale to end-users could be a vital point for expanding the market for existing services. Although there are high levies and restrictions for VNOs, easing those would prove to be highly beneficial for the sector to thrive.

Adopting the high-frequency spectrum by simplified access of the E band and V band spectrum will essentially support high-speed data transfer and thus promote competition between players and technologies. This would be done by de-regulation of the utilization of these spectrums. The foremost thing to be done is to lessen the regulatory burden for expanding consumer choices rather than focusing on the government’s revenue for vitalizing the sector’s growth.

By receiving direct support through cheap capital, land, support would essentially make India globally competitive.  Thus, there needs to be a mechanism for the competition authorities and sectoral regulators to be existing together. For competition to be easily facilitated, the market needs to be free from any sort of unsatisfactory product quality. No players in the market should be suppressing the entry of new products or stifling innovation. The competition needs to stay out of any malicious interferences, predatory activities, or fraud against the customers or suppliers.

We need to have a transparent regulation that would avoid excessive entry resulting in operators not achieving the economies of scale. Excessive price competition in revenue generation needs to be avoided for the inevitable result in the inadequacy for procuring investments and innovation otherwise.

It has been argued that for the sake of consumer benefits, every telecom industry should at least have five reasonably comparable rivals”, the numbers can vary slightly depending on the situation, and as of now India only has two players in the lead, with the second player close to financial risk.

Moreover, no firms have to hold a dominant position (this would mean a market share of 40% or more should not likely exist). The main purpose of policies and telecom regulations need to impact the market outcomes in ways that will move the prices, output, provide better service quality, service innovation, and healthy competition. 

As Alfred Kahn once explained, “It is sometimes tempting to try to change outcomes to something more comfortable politically than the results of full competition.”

This is important to note because telecom regulators in India have attempted to constrain many service providers. The attempts to have the competitive outcomes biased by favouring the firms induce lower efficiency and harm consumers in the end. The government needs to take strides to maintain a kind of normalcy that existed during the liberal times. 

The telecommunication industry needs to tread with caution, the government needs to imbibe liberal policies and promote competition. Failing to do so, the consumers will end up getting distressed when the thin line between crony capitalism and genuine relief ceases to exist. By doing so, the plans to achieve the $ 1 trillion economies for digital India seem a far-fetched idea for the time being knowing that each sector has been facing regulatory issues.

The decision lies with the policymakers and the regulators to know when intervention in the telecom sector is appropriate and how the intervention can benefit customers and their choices. 

Articles Referred:

Uppal, Mahesh. “In defense of free telecom markets. Or, how to make Indian telecom competitive while offering cheap services.” Times of India, 2020,

Kathuria, Rajat. Strengthening competition in telecom is key to realising India’s digital ambitions. The Indian Express. Accessed 2020.

Prasad, R.U.S. “The Impact of Policy and Regulatory Decisions on Telecom Growth in India.” Stanford University: Center for International Development, 2008.

Parsheera, Smriti. “Challenges of Competition and Regulation in the Telecom Sector.” Economic and political weekly, 2018.

Scroll to top