Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tobacco industry's view on Plain Packaging

The Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging legislation has been challenged at the WTO. Reports about New Zealand too going the Australian way have been blogged about here. The plain packaging case raises several issues pertaining to international trade rules, domestic policy choice, public health in the context of the right to trade with reduced barriers as well as the impact on employment in the tobacco industry. There are multiple stakeholders and varied interests. In fact, allegations that the disputes initiated by a few countries against the Australian measure was prompted by tobacco industry interests brings tot he spotlight the varied interests that eventually play out in an international trade dispute.

A representative of British Tobacco, New Zealand had this view on how New Zealand's plain packaging legislation violated WTO rules and that it is detrimental to New Zealand's interest to go in for plain packaging considering that other New Zealand exports like wine and liquor could face a similar situation in the outside market. Stressing on the violation of the TRIPS Agreements it states:
"New Zealand is a party to several multilateral and bilateral trade agreements that include protection of intellectual property, including brands. Forcing any product into a plain package denies the owner of the intellectual property, which includes the products' branding, the right to use what legally belongs to them. The New Zealand Government's plain-packaging proposal would prevent tobacco manufacturers from using their branding and, in doing that, breach New Zealand's international trade obligations and compromise our ability to participate in the international trading market. 
The Australian Government's decision to introduce plain packaging has already resulted in WTO challenges from the Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, while other countries, including Mexico, Indonesia, Russia and Chile, are opposed to the introduction of plain packaging in Australia. 
There is no doubt that New Zealand will be next off the block if it goes ahead with plain packaging."
Comparing a proposed measure by Thailand requiring graphic health warnings to be on all domestic and imported beer, wine and liquor bottles with the plain packaging legislation, the view seeks New Zealand to revoke its plain packaging move in the trade interests of New Zealand.

One may not necessarily agree with the above view, but it is nevertheless interesting. What if there is plain packaging of different liquors? Can it be equated with tobacco plain packaging? What is in the national interest of New Zealand - it's domestic, liquor interests or public health policy? Are they incompatible at all as the view above suggests?

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