[Ip-health] Trevor Little in World Trademark Review: First domino ready to fall as alcohol plain packaging move pondered

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jul 10 06:59:41 PDT 2014


International - First domino ready to fall as alcohol plain packaging move

*By Trevor Little*
July 07 2014

This weekend it was reported that Indonesia is stepping up plans to
introduce plain packaging for alcoholic products. Should the country press
ahead with its plans, the prediction by IP associations that plain
packaging will creep into other industry segments may be realised sooner
than expected.

The Jakarta Post
 and Food Navigator Asia
report that the Indonesian government is considering regulation that would
require beverages with an alcohol content in excess of 20% to either carry
graphic health warnings or to use plain packaging.

The prospect of plain packaging for alcohol was first raised in May, when
it was reported
<http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-13/plain-packaging-wine/5449490> that
Indonesia planned to require plain packaging for Australian wine in
retaliation for Australia’s plain packaging tobacco regime (Indonesia being
a significant exporter of tobacco
<http://www.who.int/tobacco/en/atlas19.pdf> – and one of the countries
to challenge
Australia’s plain packaging regime
the World Trade Organisation (WTO)). The reports sparked fears that other
countries could also be impacted, for instance that Scotch whisky would be
the focus of similar plain packaging requirements if the UK introduces
plain packaging.

Speaking last month to Drinks Industry Ireland
<http://www.drinksindustryireland.ie/article.aspx?id=5068>, Mike Ridgway,
spokesman for the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance, said: “We've
long feared that introducing plain packs for tobacco products would
eventually lead to plain packaging in other sectors. It now looks like
these fears could become reality sooner than anyone expected. Indonesia
represents a market of nearly 250 million consumers and if they retaliate
to plain pack cigarettes by adopting branding bans for alcohol it would
affect all alcohol products sold to Indonesia from anywhere in the world.”

Arguing that its own plain packaging regime would be compliant with the
WTO’s global trade requirements, it seems that Indonesia is indeed ready to
step up its plans for alcoholic products - theJakarta Post reporting
deputy trade minister Bayu Krisnamurthi told reporters on Friday: “We want
people to be warned about the dangers of consuming alcoholic drinks. We see
a lot of problems caused by the habit, including pertaining to health and
crimes, among other things.”

Krisnamurthi’s comments suggest that the move is more about health concerns
rather than political tit-for-tat. In Australia, though, the impact of the
country’s plain packaging regime for tobacco products is being fiercely
debated. On one side you have those who cite data suggesting that tobacco
sales volumes are on the rise (with an extra 59 million sticks sold in the
first 12 months under the new laws) as evidence that  - to quote a piece in
The Australian
“Labor’s nanny state push to kill off the country’s addiction to cigarettes
with plain packaging has backfired.” In contrast are those who counter that
this interpretation of the data is flawed and that, while tobacco sales
volumes have risen, once adjusted for population growth the figures
actually represent a drop per capita. Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald
the Cancer Institute NSW’s David Currow cites “the Australian Bureau of
Statistic’s figures, showing tobacco sales are at their lowest in history
at $3.405 billion. [Additionally] It was reported this week that the
Commonwealth Treasury’s tobacco clearances fell by 3.4 per cent in 2013
relative to 2012.”

The debate being played out in the Australian media is highly polarised and
is unlikely to abate any time soon. However, it is worth following as the
resulting perception in political circles on the effectiveness of plain
packaging will likely impact on the willingness to extend the regime to
other products.

To date, there hasn’t been a clamour to look beyond tobacco but Indonesia’s
move could be a portent of things to come. Just last month, reacting to the
news that Ireland’s government  had approved the publication and
presentation to Parliament of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of
Tobacco) Bill 2014, a joint statement issued by IP associations
INTA, MARQUES, ECTA and ICC BASCAP) reiterated their concern that plain
packaging will not be restricted to tobacco products, noting: “Already
there have been suggestions that similar measures, as have been proposed
for tobacco products, might be applied to alcoholic drinks and to other
products that are considered unhealthy. To adopt any plain packaging
requirements would be setting a precedent for other products.”

Following Indonesia’s stated intentions, the fear that plain packaging will
creep into other industry segments may be realised sooner than expected.
Ironically, if Indonesia’s move is indeed retaliation against plain
packaging for tobacco products, the extension of plain packaging to other
sectors will be the result of opposition to the concept plain packaging.

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