29 June 2018Trademarks

Australia wins plain packaging ruling at WTO

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has endorsed Australia’s plain packaging restrictions on tobacco products.

Australia was the first country to introduce the plain packaging requirement for cigarettes. The rules, which require cigarettes to be sold in dark brown logo-free packaging, were approved in 2011 and came into force the following year.

Indonesia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Honduras later filed challenges to the rules at the WTO. Indonesia claimed that the measures create unnecessary barriers to trade and prevent trademark owners from enjoying benefits conferred by their marks.

But yesterday, June 28, the WTO rejected those arguments and backed Australia’s contention that its rules don’t violate international trade law because they qualify as legitimate public health measures.

In May last year, WIPR  reported that the WTO had upheld Australia’s plain packaging restrictions, with two people “close to the situation” confirming the WTO’s decision to Bloomberg.

That has now been confirmed with the official announcement.

The parties will be permitted to appeal against the decision. According to Reuters, Honduras said that the ruling contained a number of legal and factual errors and that the country is intending to appeal against the decision.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, tweeted that this was another “big victory for tobacco control”.

“This gives countries comfort to introduce plain packaging to make tobacco less attractive and save lives,” he added.

Some countries, including the UK, have followed Australia’s example and introduced plain packaging measures.

In April last year, the UK Supreme Court refused to allow an appeal from the tobacco industry in a final domestic decision on plain packaging.

Since May 21, 2017, all cigarettes sold in the UK must have standardised packaging—an olive green colour, with large images of health warnings covering 65% of the front and back of every packet.

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More on this story

5 May 2017   Australia’s plain packaging restrictions on tobacco products have been upheld by the World Trade Organization, according to Bloomberg.
23 July 2018   Honduras has appealed against a World Trade Organization ruling on tobacco plain packaging in Australia, the WTO said on Thursday, July 19.
13 September 2018   Saudi Arabia yesterday notified the World Trade Organization that it plans to implement plain packaging rules covering cigarettes.