Monday, April 2, 2012

Ukraine's complaint against Australia's plain packaging - Serious allegations -

The controversy around the Ukranian complaint against the Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging legislation at the WTO refuses to die down. I had blogged about it here and here. The Sydney Morning Herald carried this potentially explosive piece on the origins of the dispute:

"Ukraine is taking Australia to the World Trade Organisation over its plain packaging of tobacco laws although it has not traded any tobacco with Australia since at least 2005, a Ukrainian government insider has revealed.

Konstantin Krasovsky, the head of the Tobacco Control Unit in the Institute for Strategic Research in the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, said the decision was made in secret within the Ministry of Economics, despite the Ukrainian President attempting to crack down on the tobacco industry.

Dr Krasovsky, who attended the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore last week, told the Herald: ''There is no economic interest whatsoever … no one in Ukraine will suffer from Australian plain packaging''.

Dr Krasovsky believes the letter requesting the WTO dispute resolution was not written by a citizen of Ukraine, as it was written first in English and then in Ukrainian and it had not been run past the Ministry of Health, as would be usual practice."
Without going into the merits of the report, it must be considered with due caution. Firstly, the report is by an Australian medical journalist writing in an Australian paper reporting on the dispute. Secondly, Konstantin Krasvosky has been at the forefront of the anti-tobacco movement in Ukraine and his views on this issue would be predictable. However, the allegations are pretty serious. Hasn't there been enough internal national debate before the complaint was initiated? Is the complaint in the interest of the people of Ukraine or domestic/international business interests based in Ukraine? This brings us back to the fundamental issue of varying stakeholder interests in WTO disputes. It is not my case that these interests should not exist. In reality, they do exist. However, a country's position at the WTO has to be a considered one keeping in view the diverse interests and a conscious decision as to what is really in the "national" interest.

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