[Ip-health] Reuters: WTO taps South African ex-minister to judge tobacco dispute

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue May 6 14:28:04 PDT 2014


WTO taps South African ex-minister to judge tobacco dispute

GENEVA Tue May 6, 2014 2:24pm EDT

May 6 (Reuters) - Former South African Trade Minister Alec Erwin will lead
a World Trade Organization panel appointed to judge a landmark trade
dispute over Australia's anti-tobacco laws, the global trade body said on

Erwin, a former trade unionist and member of the South African Communist
Party, will chair a three-strong panel whose other members are Swiss law
professor Francois Dessemontet and Billie Miller, a former foreign minister
of Barbados.

The appointments mark the opening of a widely-watched legal argument, with
Australia <http://www.reuters.com/places/australia?lc=int_mb_1001>championing
stronger tobacco<http://www.reuters.com/sectors/industries/overview?industryCode=115&lc=int_mb_1001>
 control measures<http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/06/wto-tobacco-idUSL6N0NS5P820140506#>
 and Cuba <http://www.reuters.com/places/cuba?lc=int_mb_1001>,
Honduras, Dominican Republic and
to stop it.

Australia's "plain packaging" laws that ban colourful logos on
are seen by public health advocates as heralding a new era of tobacco
control, and other countries are expected to enact similar laws if
Australia<http://www.reuters.com/places/australia?lc=int_mb_1001> wins
the case.

Australia says its laws are legitimate for public health. Opponents say
they unnecessarily restrict trade and infringe tobacco firms' intellectual

Both supporters and opponents say such restrictions could spread to alcohol
and unhealthy foods, making the WTO case far more wide-reaching than
Australia's own tobacco policies.

According to official WTO rules, the panel should give its ruling within
six months, but in practice many disputes have dragged on far longer, and
both sides can appeal.

The dispute is the largest in the 20-year history of the Geneva-based trade
body, with 32 WTO members - including the 28 country European Union -
registered as third parties with an
the outcome.

Erwin, seen as one of the most effective ministers in the government of
Thabo Mbeki, handled years of trade negotiations with the EU and presided
over new competition legislation and a law to regulate the liquor industry.

He also handled agricultural trade talks with Zimbabwe, where protection of
South Africa's tobacco industry from cheap Zimbabwean imports became a
sticking point. In the same cabinet, Health Minister Nkosazana
Dlamini-Zuma, who is now head of the African Union, courted controversy by
declaring war on smoking.

Erwin went on to become minister of public enterprises from 2004 to 2008
and has previously served on a WTO panel that ruled on a dispute over
Canadian renewable energy.

Dessemontet has also previously judged a WTO dispute, in a case brought by
the European Union against the United States in 2000. (Reporting by Tom
Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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