Cuba launches challenge to Australian tobacco laws at WTO

GENEVA,  (Reuters) – Cuba has launched a legal challenge to Australia’s tobacco packaging laws at the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based trade body said in a statement yesterday.

Cuba has never before launched WTO litigation. Its challenge follows similar complaints about Australia’s tough tobacco packaging rules by Ukraine, Honduras and Dominican Republic.

By taking the first step in a dispute, Cuba has triggered a 60-day window for Australia to try to resolve the problem in talks with Cuba. After that Cuba could ask the WTO to appoint a panel of adjudicators to judge its complaint.

Australia’s law came into force last December, banning cigarette logos and requiring packets to be plain olive green with graphic health warnings. It was seen as a precedent for others considering a similar move, including the European Union, India, Norway, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada.

To bring in the world’s toughest rules on tobacco packaging, Australia had to win a court fight against cigarette makers British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco.

It was not immediately clear why Cuba took more than a year to follow Ukraine, which launched its complaint in March 2012. The three existing complainants could press ahead with their cases at any time in the future, but unless they do so their challenges will remain inactive on the WTO’s books.

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