Challenge to Australia tobacco law could have vast impact
Geneva (AFP) - A landmark challenge to Australia's plain-packaging law for cigarettes and cigars at the WTO could have vast implications for how governments square the rules of trade with radical public health measures.
The case against Canberra has been spearheaded by cigar-producing nations Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, which say brandless packaging is an assault on their trading rights.
World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo is expected within days to name a three-member panel of independent experts on the laws of commerce, who will then have six months to issue a ruling on whether Australia is out of line.
"Resolution of this dispute is critical because it will go a long way toward indicating whether the WTO will allow countries to take reasonable actions that are intended to protect the public's health in an equitable and non-discriminatory fashion", Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told AFP.
The WTO panel was authorised in late April by a closed-door meeting of its dispute settlement body.