[Ip-health] Pascal Lamy backs Australia on ‘plain packaging’: Former WTO head backs plain packaging

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 30 02:23:48 PDT 2014


Former WTO head backs plain packaging
Jacob Greber, Joanna Heath

30 May 2014
The Australian Financial Review

The former head of the World Trade Organisation has indicated Australia is
well placed to win its fight for plain packaging against the objections of
tobacco-producing countries, saying nations had a right to put public
safety over trade.

Pascal Lamy, who left the WTO after seven years in the role last year, said
Australia was embroiled in a "classical fight" between public health on the
one hand and intellectual property on the other.

"The basic doctrine of the WTO is that you're entitled to take measures
that have trade consequences to protect the health of your citizens," Mr
Lamy told The ­Australian Financial Review.

He said a fundamental test of that ­principle was whether Australia had
imposed its rules to domestic and foreign producers equally.

Asked whether Australia was doing this, Mr Lamy said "of course you are".

"If you go to a WTO dispute and say 'I have a standard for foreign
producers but I have a lower standard for domestic producers in terms of
protecting the health of my citizens', your case would not stand one
minute. It would be obvious – it's protectionism and not precaution," he

The remarks come as the Australian government prepares to defend its
packaging laws – introduced in 2012 by the ­previous Labor government – in
a WTO dispute closely monitored by tobacco makers worried other countries
will adopt similar rules. Already, Britain, Ireland and New Zealand have
indicated they will follow Australia's rules in imposing a blanket ban on
cigarette packet branding. Trade experts say the case will have major
implications for how countries apply trade rules when dealing with public
health issues, with the potential to ­create precedents for a range of
goods and services.

Brought to the trade organisation by ­tobacco-producing nations including
Honduras, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, opponents argue
­Australia's plain packaging laws are costing farmers and employees their
jobs.Support from other WTO countries

The WTO is expected to announce a start date for the case shortly, with
hearings likely to take more than nine months given the complexity of the
case and number of parties involved.

Matthew Rimmer, a global intellectual property expert at Australian
National University, said Australia was in a strong position, given its
packaging laws appeared to be in line with various ­international rules,
including the so-called Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and the 1994
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

"Plain packaging of tobacco products is a public health measure, which is
necessary to address the tobacco epidemic," Dr Rimmer said.

Mr Lamy's remarks come just over a week after World Health Organisation
director-general Margaret Chan ­delivered a speech in Geneva slamming
tobacco companies opposing what she described as "innovative cigarette
packaging" to boost public health.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said Australia would vigorously defend its
position and noted the support of several other WTO members including
Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Uruguay.

"In my view, something is fundamentally wrong in this world when a
corporation can challenge government policies introduced to protect the
public from a product that kills," Dr Chan said.

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