Geneva, 25 February 2015. The Dominican Republic today voiced its concerns at the World Trade Organization (WTO) about recent announcements by the United Kingdom and Irish Governments concerning their intentions to move forward with measures requiring the "plain packaging" of tobacco products. In his statement at the WTO`s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Council), the Dominican Republic`s Ambassador to the WTO, Luis Manuel Piantini, noted the UK Government`s announcement of its intention to submit a plain packaging proposal to Parliament for approval before the UK elections in May 2015. Ambassador Piantini also noted recent statements by the Irish Government that it would continue its consideration of plain packaging legislation in the Irish Parliament.
The Dominican Republic is one of five complainants that have asked WTO adjudicators to decide on the WTO-compatibility of similar tobacco plain packaging measures adopted by Australia in 2012. The Australian measures require that all tobacco products be sold in standardised packaging, that is, without any design elements that constitute trademarks and geographical indications; in a uniform drab brown colour; and conforming to uniform requirements relating to the form that packaging must take.
In explaining what had motivated the Dominican Republic to make its statement to the TRIPS Council, Dr. Katrina Naut, the Dominican Republic`s Director-General of Foreign Trade and Administration of Trade Agreements noted that: "Plain packaging has become a highly controversial topic among WTO Members. At this point we urge WTO Members to await consideration of plain packaging until WTO adjudicators have reached an objective and independent decision on the conformity of such measures with WTO rules."
Ambassador Piantini explained why plain packaging is inconsistent with WTO rules. He highlighted that plain packaging goes against the very reason why trademarks and geographical indications are protected by WTO rules, noting that these intellectual property rights enable competitors to differentiate their offerings in the marketplace and are therefore essential for real competition. Referring to the experience in Australia since its introduction of plain packaging measures, Ambassador Piantini pointed out the consequences that ensue when producers are forced to remove their trademarks and geographical indications from their packaging and instead present their products in a uniform fashion: consumers move away from premium products to similar-looking, low-end licit and illicit products, while tobacco prevalence rates are left unaffected. As he stated: "Competition is undermined, without any health benefit."
Ambassador Piantini expressed a further concern with plain packaging: "One of the fundamental principles of the WTO is that Members should regulate in the least-restrictive way. Plain packaging clearly deviates from this principle, as there are several alternative tobacco-control measures available that are truly effective, such as increasing the minimum legal purchasing age or increasing taxation. Instead of simply banning all trademarks and geographical indications from tobacco packaging and sticks, the UK and Ireland could also consider a much more rational approach and assess each trademark and geographical indication individually and only regulate problematic features, if any. This seems to be the approach taken in the UK draft regulations for cigars, and we fail to understand why a similar approach could not be taken for cigarettes as well."
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Source: Farner via GlobeNewswire