Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oh STOP it! - Junk food and the WTO

After plain packaging of Tobacco products, Junk food seems to be the next issue that WTO members are grappling with. Concerns on moves by Chile to introduce food safety regulations that require the "STOP" sign on junk food were raised by other members in the TBT Committee meeting at the WTO. The IELP blog has touched upon it here.

"Pursuant to the amendment, certain categories of food would need to bear labels designated to inform and encourage consumers to avoid excessive intake which may lead to obesity and related non-communicable diseases.  Moreover, products containing a critical amount of certain substances (e.g. fat, sugar, salt) would have to bear labels such as “high in salt”, “high in calories” or equivalent warnings. These warnings would need to be placed in the middle of an octagonal icon (i.e. a STOP sign) occupying no less than 20% of the main surface of the package, be located in the upper right corner, and have a size of at least 4 square centimetres."

Would this be the next dispute at the WTO challenging a domestic regulatory measure?
Article 2.2 of the TBT Agreement states:

" Members shall ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.  For this purpose, technical regulations shall not be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective, taking account of the risks non-fulfilment would create."

Is the 'STOP" measure creating an "unnecessary obstacle to international trade? Is it more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective? How would the junk food industry react to this? How would member countries facing similar problems that Chile claims to be facing react? A WTO Panel perhaps would perhaps decide the contours of the permissible regulation?

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