[Ip-health] Reuters: Australia demands opponents stop stalling WTO tobacco case

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Mar 27 03:16:29 PDT 2014


Australia demands opponents stop stalling WTO tobacco case
Wed, Mar 26 18:06 PM GMT

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - Australia asked five countries challenging its tobacco
policies on Wednesday to stop delaying the progress of their cases at the
World Trade Organization and took the unusual step of speeding up one of
the complaints against itself.

Indonesia, Ukraine, Cuba, Honduras and Dominican Republic have all launched
complaints at the world trade body to try to overturn Australia's "plain
packaging" laws on tobacco.

Australia hopes the stringent packaging laws will reduce smoking and
improve public health, and other countries around the world have said they
may follow suit, based on the WTO case, raising the stakes for a speedy

An Australian diplomat told the WTO's dispute settlement body that the
uncertainty of the proceedings and the failure to move towards a settlement
was having a "regulatory chilling" effect on other countries thinking of
putting their own tobacco rules in place, and said there could be a "human
cost" of delays.

"Australia does recognize that there may be circumstances where prolonging
formal dispute processes might be justified," the diplomat said, according
to a copy of Australia's statement provided to Reuters.

"But it is not the case here. Not one of the parties has approached
Australia to resolve the case through a mutually agreed solution," the
diplomat said.

Many countries demand tobacco products carry graphic health warnings. But
Australia has gone much further, banning flashy logos and distinctive
colors in favor of drab olive packets that look more like military or
prison issue, with brand names printed in small standardized fonts.

Tobacco firms say the rules infringe their trademarks. The WTO complainants
say they create illegal obstacles to trade.


Plain packaging is seen by public health advocates as the dawn of a new era
of restrictions on unhealthy products, and many observers expect a similar
campaign against marketing of alcohol and unhealthy foods if the
anti-smoking drive succeeds.

The plain packaging rules have been in force since December 2010 and had
been well publicized several years before that, so other countries had
plenty of time to get their complaints in order, Australia told the WTO

It added that WTO members should not launch disputes and only later decide
if they have a chance of winning them, and noted the WTO dispute settlement
system was already stretched.

To underline its willingness to get to litigation underway, Australia
accepted Indonesia's request on Wednesday to set up a panel of adjudicators
to rule on the dispute, waiving its right to delay the setting up of the
panel, a tactic that is routinely used in WTO disputes.

Indonesia's request for a panel is the third, after similar moves by
Ukraine and Honduras. Australia said that over the past two years, Ukraine
had asked it to delay setting up a panel to allow Honduras and Dominican
Republic to catch up.

Honduras took 10 months to request a panel and immediately suspended the
process, while Dominican Republic took 16 months before asking to join
talks on setting up a panel, without saying when it would move to that
stage, Australia said.

Ukraine asked WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo earlier this week to
nominate panel members, and Australia said it would ask Azevedo to do the
same for Honduras and join the two cases together.

Despite the change of government in Kiev, Ukraine's representative at the
meeting said it remained "actively committed to proceed" with the dispute.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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