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Australia said to face WTO complaint about plain cigarette packaging law

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AUSTRALIA -
The Australian government may face a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over its plain cigarette packaging legislation, which prohibits the use of trademarks and logos on all tobacco products.

Sources involved in the matter say the complaint pertains to Australia’s violation of global intellectual property roles, and will likely be lodged with a Geneva-based arbiter sometime this March. At least three governments, including Ukraine, are involved in the complaint.

Australia is the first country to implement the plain-packaging law for tobacco products. As of December 2012, cigarettes in Australia must be sold in dark olive-colored packaging with no brand logos and images, and the same font for all brands. The government is also extending this legislation to cigars and loose-leaf products.

At a WTO meeting on 28 February, Ukraine accused Australia of violating “several provisions” of agreements which protect 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.”

Several other countries including Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe have also voiced similar sentiments against Australia’s policy, and said the plain cigarette packaging law will unnecessarily restrict commerce because the country’s public- health goal can be met by other means.

The Australian government though, insists that its law is “not anti-trade, it’s anti-cancer.”

Once the WTO complaint is filed, talks must be held for at least two months between the parties involved to resolve the dispute. After that, the complaining governments can ask for a WTO panel of judges to rule. Judges typically rule within six months, after which either party can appeal.

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