Australia wins plain packaging tobacco fight - report

  • 05/05/2017

The landmark Australian law on restrictive tobacco packaging, better known as plain packaging, has been upheld at the World Trade Organization (WTO) after a five-year legal battle, Bloomberg news reports citing two people familiar with the situation.

The WTO ruling was widely anticipated and is seen to give a green light for other countries to roll out similar laws, not only on tobacco but also on alcohol and unhealthy foods.

The Australian law goes much further than advertising bans and graphic health warnings enforced in many other countries.

The rules, introduced in 2010, ban flashy logos and distinctive-coloured cigarette packaging in favour of drab olive packets with brand names printed in small standardised fonts.

Tobacco firms said their trademarks were being infringed, while Cuba, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Indonesia complained at the WTO that the rules constituted an illegal barrier to trade.

Although the WTO's final ruling is not expected until July, a confidential draft said Australia's laws were a legitimate public health measure, Bloomberg reported.

WTO has not yet commented.

A spokeswoman for British American Tobacco declined to comment on the ruling until it was publicly released, but suggested the complainants would keep fighting.

A spokeswoman for Japan Tobacco International also declined to comment on the ruling, but the fact that the draft had been leaked was disconcerting and a breach of WTO rules.

Some trade experts said they expected the arguments on trademarks to go Australia's way, but the complainants were battling to discredit the data used by Australia to support its case.

Australia had the backing of the World Health Organization, and many other countries have since announced similar legislation, a sign that they expected the WTO to rule in Australia's favour.

The plodding pace of WTO decision-making prompted Australia to complain that its challengers were deliberately stalling the proceedings, producing a "regulatory chilling" effect on other countries wishing to follow its example.

Britain, France and Hungary went ahead with their own legislation, while Ireland, Canada, and South Africa are considering following suit.

New Zealand plans to follow Australia, and has been awaiting the outcome of the WTO battle.

Reuters / Newshub.