WTO Dispute Body Hears Sides On Australia Tobacco Law

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The World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Body yesterday heard arguments by parties in a dispute about Australia’s new public health law requiring tobacco imports to be in plain packaging as a way to discourage tobacco use. Honduras presented a challenge to the Australian law, saying it is not in line with WTO rules on intellectual property rights, while Australia said it is a “sound, well-considered” action in the name of public health.

Australia exercised its right to reject Honduras’ first request for a dispute panel, WTO said in a press release, but Honduras can submit it again.

Honduras, a tobacco producer, cited WTO agreements that it said are violated by Australia’s action, especially pertaining to geographical indications and trademarks, and said Australia’s measures cannot be justified as necessary to protect human health, WTO said.

Australia said its measure legitimately achieves its public health aim, does not violate WTO agreements nor go beyond what is necessary to fulfil its objective. It is origin neutral, non-discriminatory and applies to all tobacco products, it said, as well as being in line with the World Health Organization tobacco convention to which Honduras is also a party.

Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine echoed Honduras’ concerns. The Dominican Republic said it will request a panel at the next DSB meeting. New Zealand, Norway and Uruguay supported Australia’s measure and “noted the sovereign right of WTO members to regulate and protect public health,” WTO said, adding that New Zealand said that it is also considering plain packaging.

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