* Doubt over future of trade challenge against Australia
* Yanukovich pushed issue in WTO with industry support
* Anti-tobacco campaigners hope case will be dropped
By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Feb 28 The fall of Ukrainian President
Viktor Yanukovich could have an unlikely impact on a wider
battle: the global fight by health campaigners to restrict
tobacco marketing, which may later affect alcohol and unhealthy
Yanukovich's government took the lead in challenging
Australia after it enacted tough restrictions on the packaging
of cigarettes, a move that supporters said heralded a new global
wave of public health legislation.
In March 2012, Ukraine launched a case at the World Trade
Organisation to try to overturn the Australian law, a step seen
by anti-tobacco campaigners as a stalling tactic by a government
with little interest in the issue, and whose legal bills were
being met at least in part by one or more tobacco firms.
Now Ukraine's change of government, and its empty coffers,
puts the challenge against Australia into question.
"I think in the circumstances that are now created in
Ukraine of course it may be very difficult to find money to
continue this dispute," said a source at Ukraine's diplomatic
mission in Geneva, home of the WTO.
The mission has not yet received new instructions from Kiev,
but Ukraine's future trade policy is likely to focus more on
concrete steps to help its ailing economy than on "theoretical"
questions about tobacco, the source said.
However, if other countries helped to fund Ukraine it might
continue, since the issue is important and may bear on future
curbs on other products, such as alcohol, the source said.
Trade officials at Ukraine's Ministry of Economy were not
immediately available to comment.
British American Tobacco, which has in the past
confirmed it helped support Ukraine's legal costs, declined to
say if it had contacted Kiev ministries this week. However, it
said it would continue to support the case.
"British American Tobacco remains committed to providing
legal support to countries, such as Ukraine, as is customary for
businesses to do in WTO disputes, in relation to regulatory
matters that seek to undermine a business," the company said in
an emailed comment on Friday.
A spokesman for Imperial Tobacco declined comment on
the dispute, saying his firm had not helped fund or assist
Ukraine in the challenge. A spokesman for Philip Morris
International said it was not supporting Ukraine in any
capacity. Japan Tobacco International did not
immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ukraine is not the only country to have launched a WTO case
on the issue, but it was the first and is the closest to
entering formal litigation in the trade body that could
eventually make or break the Australian law.
Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia have also
filed complaints against the Australian "plain packaging" law
that bans flashy logos and colours on tobacco products.
Australian cigarettes now come in drab brownish packets with
brand names reduced to a small, standardised font which is
dwarfed by graphic health warnings.
Other countries are thinking of following Australia's
example with similar restrictions on tobacco, but many are
awaiting the outcome of the WTO case before doing so.
Health campaigners were perplexed by Ukraine's WTO suit
because it is a party to the key U.N. treaty on tobacco, the
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and it was one of the
countries that backed guidelines on how to implement the treaty,
including enforcing plain packaging.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the WHO hoped Ukraine
would now take a tougher line on tobacco and drop the WTO case.
"We want all countries to adopt anti-tobacco measures in
line with FCTC and we would like that all court cases against
countries adopting these measures are dropped," he said.