Specific Trade concerns

Canada — Bill C-32 Amendment to the “Tobacco Act” (previously raised)

Over twenty WTO Members including developing countries and LDCs - raised concerns about Canada's “Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act” (Bill C-32 amendment to the Tobacco Act), adopted by the Canadian Parliament in October 2009.

This issue was raised at the last two TBT meetings. A summary of the debates can be read here.

Aimed at protecting children and youth from industry marketing practices that encourage smoking, the measure prohibits the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps that contain certain identified flavourings and additives.

Concerned delegations stressed that the Tobacco Act would effectively ban “blended cigarettes” (cigarettes made with several types of tobacco), which contain a number of additives prohibited by Canadian law. These additives, they argued, do not add a characteristic flavour to the end product but are, rather, an essential component of the traditional blend that mitigates the strong flavour of Burley tobacco.

Some members argued that the consequences may be significant: Malawi, Kenya and Uganda mentioned the potential negative effects of the measure on their economies and economic and social development, arguing that Canada should ensure that the ban only applies to cigarettes that exhibit discernible confectionary or fruit flavours. They made submissions to the Committee in this respect: Malawi (in G/TBT/W/329); Kenya (in G/TBT/W/330) and Uganda (in G/TBT/W/331).

Canada reiterated that the measure does not ban any type of tobacco product, it only prohibits the use of additives, including flavours that make tobacco products more appealing to children and youth. Canada emphasized that tobacco use is a contributing factor to premature deaths and significant public health care costs in Canada, and that sound scientific evidence exists that certain additives, including flavours, do increase tobacco product attractiveness. Canada also explained that a number of initiatives and policy regulations restricting youth's access to tobacco products were being implemented, such as restrictions on tobacco industry advertising, mass-media programming, second-hand smoke messages and the development of school-based materials.

Thailand — Alcoholic Beverages (previously raised)

Thailand's measure on health warnings for alcoholic beverages measure would require the display of specific health advisory statements and pictures on the packaging of alcoholic beverages.

While members are supportive of the right to introduce regulations to address legitimate public health objectives, there is concern that the proposed labelling requirements are unnecessarily trade restrictive and that less burdensome approaches are available to achieve the same objective.

Several Members reiterated that, as drafted, the strong graphic messages contained in the labelling requirements could lead the consumer to believe that the conditions covered by the health warnings are generally caused by any level of alcohol consumption, even moderate consumption.

Thailand emphasized that while alcohol consumption is an individual's choice and right, the collective responsibility to effectively address alcohol-related problems is a public one. It was noted that to address this objective, Thailand had implemented a policy consisting of various effective interventions aiming at different target groups through different mechanisms (including the ban of small alcohol bottles). Drawing experience from tobacco control, pictorial warning labelling appeared to have a stronger impact than text-only messages — particularly where there existed population groups with a relatively low literacy rate. Thailand explained that the six proposed pictorial warning messages were fully supported by international and domestic scientific evidence.


A new observer

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was granted ad hoc observer status in the TBT Committee.


Next meeting

The next meeting of the TBT Committee will take place on 3-4 November 2010.


 Jargon buster 

• enquiry point: an official or office in a member government designated to deal with enquiries from other WTO members and the public on a subject such as technical barriers to trade or sanitary/phytosanitary measures.

• notification: a transparency obligation requiring member governments to report proposed measures to the relevant WTO body if the measures might have an effect on other members' trade.

• technical barriers to trade (TBT): regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures, which could impact trade. The WTO’s TBT Agreement aims to ensure that these do not create unnecessary obstacles.

> More jargon: glossary

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