Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tobacco Plain Packaging - A classic WTO dispute?

I had blogged yesterday about UK's moves to introduce plain packaging. Parallelly, the TRIPS Council at the WTO was the venue for the continued challenge to the proposed plain packaging measures of New Zealand with the Dominican Republic and Honduras maintaining that employment opportunities and TRIPS obligations must be the main consideration on deciding the fate of plain packaging measures.

ICTSD summarised the proceedings thus:

"Members at the TRIPS Council meeting also addressed a proposed New Zealand law that, if implemented, would require plain packaging for tobacco products. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 February 2013) The controversial legislation would require standardised packaging without trademarks, a drab monotone design, and prominent health warnings on cigarette packaging, with only a small line of text to distinguish one brand from another. 
At this week’s meeting, the Dominican Republic - whose main export is tobacco - took the lead in commenting on the draft legislation, saying that it would hinder employment and would force producers to compete based on price instead of quality.  
In response, New Zealand said it would continue developing the planned legislation - which is currently in the drafting stage - but may wait to see the outcome of the dispute before implementing it, echoing recent comments made by the country’s prime minister, John Key. It also recalled that the 2001 Doha Declaration says that TRIPS does not and should not prevent members from taking measures supportive of public health. 
The plain packaging regime is a part of “a long policy development process,” New Zealand added, noting that smoking is its single largest cause of preventable death."
Public health objectives, domestic policy space, long term development process vis a vis employment opportunities, growth of less develop countries and intellectual property law obligations. The stage is set for a classic WTO dispute!

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