Australia demands speedy tobacco trial

By Jenna Iacurci, Parent Herald March 27, 04:27 pm

Australia demanded the five countries questioning its "plain-packaging" tobacco policies to speed up the World Trade Organization trial on Wednesday.

Indonesia, Ukraine, Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic are pleading with WTO to overturn Australia's simple packaging laws, mainly because they feel it creates illegal obstacles to trade.

Australia instituted the laws in an effort to reduce smoking and improve public health, and other countries say they want to follow suit. Now the country fears a lollygagging trial will cause these countries to think twice about their tobacco laws, creating a "regulatory chilling" effect.

"Australia does recognize that there may be circumstances where prolonging formal dispute processes might be justified," said an Australian diplomat in a statement provided to Reuters.

"But it is not the case here. Not one of the parties has approached Australia to resolve the case through a mutually agreed solution."

Australia's stringent packaging, in effect since December 2012, bans flashy logos and distinctive colors, opting for simple, plain packaging with brand names in small, standardized fonts. Tobacco firms are evidently not happy with the changes, claiming that the boring packaging rules infringe on their trademarks.

The rules were well publicized before they were enacted to give other countries a chance to file complaints, Australia told WTO at the meeting,

It added that WTO members should not launch disputes, especially since the WTO system was already stretched.

To prevent further stalling and a "human cost" of delays, Australia accepted Indonesia's request Wednesday to set up a panel of adjudicators to rule on the dispute, waiving its right to delay the setting up of the panel.

Indonesia is the third WTO country to do so, after Ukraine and Honduras, both of which successfully delayed the setting up of their panels - a common tactic in WTO disputes.

Despite the ongoing political issues in Ukraine, a representative at the meeting said it remained "actively committed to proceed" with the dispute.

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