INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Coca-Cola Still Fighting Latvian Ministry of Health Over

Published: Fri 18 Aug 2006 02:47 PM
VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB
DE RUEHRA #0662 2301447
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 181447Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3260
INFO RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0079
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 1056
RUCPDC/USDOC WASHDC
UNCLAS RIGA 000662
SIPDIS
STATE FOR EB/CBA/B. WALTERS
STOCKHOLM AND BRUSSELS FOR FCS
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETRD EINV BEXP PREL LG
SUBJECT: COCA-COLA STILL FIGHTING LATVIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH OVER
PROPOSED REGULATIONS
REF: A) RIGA 00528, B) RIGA 00566, C) 00552
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. DURING THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS, COCA-COLA HAS MET
WITH GOL OFFICIALS AT BOTH THE HEALTH AND EDUCATION MINISTRIES TO
PRESS THE GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW PROPOSED REGULATIONS ON SOFT DRINK
SALES IN SCHOOLS. ON AUGUST 2, POST ARRANGED FOR THE MINISTER OF
ECONOMICS TO VISIT COCA-COLA'S LOCAL DISTRIBUTION FACILITIES ALONG
WITH THE AMBASSADOR. THE MINISTER WAS VERY RESPONSIVE AND EXPRESSED
SUPPORT FOR COCA-COLA'S POSITION ON THE ISSUE. THE FOREIGN
MINISTRY, THE ECONOMICS MINISTRY, AND THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE
HAVE BEEN VERY RESPONSIVE TO POST AND COCA-COLA'S EFFORTS. HOWEVER,
THE MINISTRY OH HEALTH (MOH) HAS DUG IN ITS HEALS AND MAINTAINS ITS
SUPPORT FOR THE PROPOSED BAN. IT IS LIKELY THAT THE MINISTER OF
HEALTH IS USING THE PROPOSED REGULATIONS TO RAISE HIS PROFILE AND
GARNER PERSONAL PUBLICITY DURING AN ELECTION YEAR. GOING FORWARD,
COCA-COLA PLANS TO FOCUS ITS ENERGIES ON IMPLEMENTING A PILOT
PROJECT IN RIGA SCHOOLS. THE AIM OF THE PROGRAM IS TO DEMONSTRATE
THE VIABILITY OF A SELF-REGULATED APPROACH TO REDUCE SOFT DRINK
SALES IN SCHOOLS. END COMMENT.
2. (SBU) AS PART OF ONGOING EFFORTS TO GET THE GOL TO TAKE A
COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TOWARDS REGULATING SOFT DRINK SALES IN
SCHOOLS (REFTEL A), AMBASSADOR BAILEY AND MINISTER OF ECONOMICS
AIGARS STOKENBERGS VISITED THE COCA-COLA DISTRIBUTION CENTER OUTSIDE
RIGA AUGUST 2. THE VISIT STARTED WITH A TOUR OF THE PLANT AND WAS
FOLLOWED BY A PRESENTATION FROM COCA-COLA. DURING THE PRESENTATION
COCA-COLA DISCUSSED THE PROPOSED BAN AND ADVANCED ITS ALTERNATIVE
APPROACH TO THE ISSUE. MINISTER STOKENBERGS EXPRESSED HIS SUPPORT
FOR COLLABORATION BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS IN GENERAL AND
STATED THAT HE WOULD "NOT SUPPORT ANY POLITICIAN ADVANCING HIS
PERSONAL AMBITIONS" AT THE EXPENSE OF THE OVERALL BUSINESS
ENVIRONMENT IN LATVIA. [NOTE: THIS WAS A NOT VERY SUBTLE ALLUSION
TO HEALTH MINISTER GUNDARS BERZINS, WHO IS OF THE SAME PARTY AS
STOKENBERGS, BUT A DIFFERENT FACTION.]
3. (SBU) UNABLE TO GET A MEETING WITH MINISTER BERZINS HIMSELF,
COCA-COLA PARTICIPATED IN SEVERAL MEETINGS WITH THE MINISTRY OF
HEALTH AT THE STATE SECRETARY OR LOWER LEVEL DURING THE LAST SEVERAL
WEEKS. THE GENERAL ATTITUDE AT THE POLITICAL LEVEL OF THE MOH IS
THAT THE PROPOSED BAN IS GOOD FOR CITIZENS, AND THERE IS LITTLE
INTEREST IN COCA-COLA'S PROPOSED SELF-REGULATION. NEVERTHELESS, THE
HEALTH MINISTRY PRAISED COCA-COLA'S IDEA FOR A PILOT PROJECT
DEMONSTRATING THE MERITS OF SELF-REGULATION. COCA-COLA IS MOVING
FORWARD WITH THIS PROJECT IN 25 SCHOOLS IN RIGA, AND HOPES THIS
PROGRAM CAN SERVE AS A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE COMPANY AND THE HEALTH
MINISTRY.
4. (SBU) ON AUGUST 3, COCA-COLA MET WITH THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
(MOE) AND SEVERAL NGO'S. ACCORDING TO COCA-COLA, THE MOE WAS MORE
BALANCED THAN THE HEALTH MINISTRY HAD BEEN, AND APPEARS FOCUSSED ON
OTHER ISSUES. THE LATVIAN TRADERS ASSOCIATION ATTENDED THIS MEETING
AND PROVIDED FULL SUPPORT FOR COCA-COLA'S VOLUNTARY APPROACH BASED
ON INDUSTRY GUIDELINES.
5. (SBU) ON AUGUST 16, RAIMOND MADE, COCA-COLA'S PUBLIC AFFAIRS
MANAGER FOR THE BALTIC REGION, TOLD EMBOFF THAT COCA-COLA HAS
EXPLORED ALL POSSIBLE ROUTES OF DISCUSSION WITH THE GOL. NOW
COCA-COLA PLANS TO MOVE FROM "WORDS TO WORK." THE COMPANY HAS
ALREADY BEGUN IMPLEMENTING ITS PROPOSED PILOT PROJECT IN 25 SCHOOLS
AROUND RIGA. THIS PROGRAM HAS RECEIVED SUPPORT FROM THE RIGA CITY
GOVERNMENT, AND HAS BEEN EMBRACED BY THE SCHOOLS THAT WERE INVITED
TO PARTICIPATE. COCA-COLA HOPES TO SEE THE INITIAL RESULTS FROM
THIS PROJECT BY MID-SEPTEMBER AND PLANS TO PRESENT THE RESULTS TO
THE GOL.
6. (SBU) COMMENT: AFTER MUCH LOBBYING BY POST AND OTHER SOURCES,
THE MOH FINALLY RELENTED AND AGREED TO MEET COCA-COLA FOR SEVERAL
DISCUSSIONS (DESCRIBED ABOVE) AT SENIOR OFFICIALS' LEVEL. HOWEVER,
THE MOH HAS STOOD FIRM BEHIND THE PROPOSED BAN, AND THE MEETINGS HAD
LITTLE EFFECT ON MINISTER BERZINS' POSITION. COCA-COLA HAS
EXPRESSED SATISFACTION THAT, AFTER A MAJOR FLARE UP IN LATE JULY,
THERE HAS BEEN RELATIVELY LITTLE PRESS ATTENTION GIVEN TO THE TOPIC
DURING THE LAST FEW WEEEKS. IT APPEARS THE ISSUE WILL BOIL DOWN TO
A TEST OF WILLS IN THE CABINET, WITH THE ECONOMIC AND FOREIGN
MINISTRIES LIKELY SUPPORTING COCA-COLA AND THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH
PUSHING FOR A BAN. GIVEN ELECTION YEAR POLITICS, THE UPSHOT OF THIS
FIGHT IS STILL UNKNOWN. POST WILL CONTINUE TO STRENOUSLY PRESS
COCA-COLA'S CASE AND ENSURE THAT THE GOL KNOWS THAT THIS ISSUE
REMAINS HIGHLY IMPORTANT TO THE USG. END COMMENT.
ANTWEILER
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