Category Archives: World Trade Organization

Ukraine bails on ridiculous challenge to Australian plain packaging laws

342903-cigarette-packs
Plain packaging

Here is an update on John Oliver’s excellent rant about the tactics of Big Tobacco in fighting regulations against their products worldwide.

This is complicated and I’m not 100 percent confident I will explain it right, but I will try:

Ukraine had been convinced (no doubt by Big Tobacco lobbying efforts) to file a World Trade Organization¬†challenge¬†against Australia over Australia’s plain packaging laws. Per Australian law, tobacco companies¬†cannot put their logos on cigarette packs. Only graphic anti-smoking warnings are allowed and a small amount of text saying what the actual brand of the cigarettes are.

Tobacco companies filed suit and recently, the Australian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government. So, Big Tobacco (or should I say Big World Tobacco) lost that round.

ukraine-wheat-fields
They grow wheat in Ukraine, not tobacco

However, Big World Tobacco also went the WTO route (John Oliver did a great piece on this), saying Australia’s strict rules affected trade with other countries and violated international trade agreements. For some mystifying reason, Ukraine got involved, even though Ukraine is not a major tobacco-growing nation and does not export any tobacco to Australia. (Like I said, I smell money — LOTS of money — exchanging hands here between tobacco interests and Ukrainian government officials.)

From the Reuters article:

Health campaigners were perplexed by Ukraine’s WTO suit because it is also a party to the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and was one of the countries that backed guidelines on how to implement the treaty, including enforcing plain packaging.

British American Tobacco has previously said it was helping meet Ukraine’s legal costs in the WTO case against Australia. Individual companies cannot pursue litigation via the WTO.

Well, there you go: BAT was paying Ukraine’s legal fees.

The issue isn’t over, but Ukraine was the biggest country involved in fighting the Australian plain packaging rules. Other nations challenging the plain packaging rules are Cuba, Honduras, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic (all tobacco-growing nations).