Tribunal rules against hearing plain packs challenge

| December 18, 2015

An arbitration tribunal has declined jurisdiction to hear a challenge by Philip Morris Asia Ltd (PMAL) against standardized tobacco packaging legislation imposed by Australia.

PMAL, a Hong Kong company that is the parent of Philip Morris Australia, brought the challenge under Australia’s 1993 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) with Hong Kong.

“There is nothing in today’s outcome that addresses, let alone validates, plain packaging in Australia or anywhere else,” said Marc Firestone, Philip Morris International senior vice president and general counsel. “It is regrettable that the outcome hinged entirely on a procedural issue that Australia chose to advocate instead of confronting head on the merits of whether plain packaging is legal or even works.”

In a note posted its website, PMI said that PMAL had filed its claims under the IPPA on November 21, 2011, when the Australian government passed plain packaging legislation. PMAL had asserted that the sweeping ban on trademarks breached the foreign investment protections that the Australian government guaranteed in its IPPA with Hong Kong.

“This case has never been about a government’s undeniable authority to regulate in the public interest,” Firestone said. “Nor has there ever been any question that tobacco products merit strict oversight. In our view, the real point is simply this: Even when pursuing tobacco control objectives, governments are still accountable if they choose to use unlawful means. This is the essence of the rule of law.”

PMAL said that the Australian government’s tobacco packaging policy remained the subject of international disagreement. ‘The World Trade Organization (WTO) is currently considering challenges to Australia’s legislation by four WTO Members,’ the note said. ‘Separately, courts in Europe are also assessing plain packaging under national and international law. The decision on jurisdiction under the Australia-Hong Kong IPPA has no bearing on any of these proceedings.

‘Australia’s former Labor government made bold promises regarding the public health benefits that its excessive, expropriatory trademark ban – which it labeled a policy experiment – would yield. Three years into the experiment, data from a range of sources consistently demonstrate that the promised outcomes are not being delivered.

‘PMAL is reviewing the Tribunal’s decision in detail and will determine any further course of action.’

Category: Breaking News

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