WTO challenge to plain packaging in the offing

Australia might face a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over its decision to ban trademarks and logos on tobacco products, according to a Bloomberg story quoting unidentified people with a direct knowledge of the matter.

The complaint, which says the ‘plain-packaging’ law violates global intellectual-property rules, will probably be lodged with the WTO this month, perhaps as soon as this week.

At least three governments, including Ukraine, are expected to be involved.

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A representative of Ukraine said at a February 28 WTO meeting that the Australian law violated several provisions of agreements protecting intellectual-property rights. “Serious concerns about the lack of consistency of the act and its regulations with fundamental international rules on the protection of intellectual property have been echoed by a number of other member governments and leading international intellectual property and business organizations throughout the world,” the representative said.

But a representative of Australia said at the same meeting that it had “comprehensively responded to all the claims made by the Dominican Republic and others”.

And the Australian Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement that the law was not anti-trade but anti-cancer.

‘It’s in the public-health interests of the Australian people and the Gillard government will never give up on Australia’s sovereign right to look after the health of its people,’ the statement said.

Australia’s legislation, which requires cigarettes to be sold in packs designed by the government to be as unattractive as is possible and which is being extended to include cigars and cut tobacco, is being challenged in Australia’s courts by the Imperial Tobacco Group, British American Tobacco Plc and Japan Tobacco Inc.

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