June 9, 2020 / 4:23 PM / a month ago

WTO backs Australia in appeal over its tobacco packaging law

FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows a smoker with a pack of cigarettes featuring restrictive tobacco packaging outside a Sydney office building in Australia, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization’s appeals body ruled on Tuesday that Australia’s tight laws on tobacco packaging were justified, rejecting complaints by Honduras and the Dominican Republic that they are unfair restrictions on trade.

A panel of the WTO had in 2018 ruled on a case brought by Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Indonesia against Australia over its rules on tobacco packaging.

They complained about 2011 rules that stipulated packaging be dominated by health warnings with the brand written in a standard font in a plain section devoid of trade marks.

Other countries, including Britain, France, New Zealand and Uruguay, have since put in place similar rules.

The complainants argued that Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act constituted an unjustified barrier to trade, but the panel found Australia’s measures were not more restrictive than was necessary to achieve the public health goal of reducing smoking.

Honduras and the Dominican Republic appealed against the panel’s findings.

The Appellate Body said on Tuesday that it had found no errors in the earlier panel’s conclusions and that it rejected the complainants’ request for Australia to change its packaging rules.

Tuesday’s ruling was the last by the WTO’s Appellate Body, which serves as a supreme court in international trade disputes, but has ceased to function after the United States blocked new appointments. The result is that the Geneva-based WTO can no longer effectively intervene to settle disputes.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alison Williams

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