Plain packaging dispute moves up a gear

| April 29, 2014

Australia could learn by the end of this year whether its standardized tobacco packaging regulations have fallen afoul of World Trade Organization requirements, according to an Agence France Presse story.

Since Dec. 1, 2012, Australia has required that all tobacco products be sold in packaging designed on behalf of the previous Labor government to be as ugly as possible. Packs are hugely dominated by graphic health warnings, are otherwise a standard olive color, have no logos or other design features, and have brand and variant names in a standardized font and position.

Australia and the five countries that have raised objections to the regulations, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia and Ukraine, agreed at a WTO dispute settlement body meeting on Friday to combine the five separate challenges into a single case.

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo is expected by May 5 to name the three-member panel of independent trade and legal experts, who, under the organization’s rules, will then have six months to issue a ruling.

However, according to a story by Tom Miles for Reuters, panels frequently ask for more time, and the WTO’s dispute system is suffering from a bottleneck.

Additionally, any party to the dispute could appeal, a process that can add months to the outcome, and some disputes drag on for years because of disagreements over whether a country ruled to be in the wrong has done enough to comply with the terms of the WTO judgment.

The Agence France Presse story, meanwhile, quoted trade analysts as saying that the dispute ruling could have far-reaching implications for how governments balanced global intellectual property rules with measures they say are in the public interest.

Category: Breaking News

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