World Trade Organization Upholds Australia’s Plain Packaging Requirement

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The World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body has issued a ruling supporting Australia’s tobacco plain packaging requirements and dismissing claims made by the Dominican Republic and Honduras that they imposed an undue hardship on trade, seemingly bringing an end to any further appeals over the matter.

On Tuesday, the organization’s highest appeals body ruled that the “measures were apt to make a meaningful contribution to Australia’s objective of improving public health by reducing the use of, and exposure to, tobacco products and the complainants had not demonstrated that they were more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective.”

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The appeal dates back to 2018, when four countries—the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Cuba and Indonesia—filed a complaint with the WTO regarding the plain packaging requirement for tobacco products in Australia, which had been approved in 2011. It required manufacturers to remove any logos, distinguishing marks or colors, or any other unique identifiers from their packaging, and replace it with a standardized packaging and font.

Those countries had initially appealed on the grounds that it prohibited trade, a claim that was denied by a WTO panel, which said that it was not an undue burden in light of Australia’s stated health goals. The Dominican Republic and Honduras then appealed that ruling, which resulted in this most recent decision, which will be the last in the matter as the Appellate Body is considered to be the WTO’s highest court, and the highest arbiter of international trade disputes.

Other claims regarding the protection of copyright or unfair competition were also denied.

Since Australia enacted plain packaging, a number of other countries have done the same, including New Zealand, Great Britain, Singapore, IrelandTurkeyThailand and Canada.

Of note, this could be the last ruling by the WTO’s Appellate Body for some time, as it has stopped functions after the United States blocked new appointments as part of a protest by the Trump administration as to how the World Trade Organization operates.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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