THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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Specific Trade concerns


Australia introduced a new draft bill regulating the appearance and features of tobacco packaging. According to the draft legislation, all tobacco products sold in Australia would have olive-coloured plain packaging as of 1 July 2012. No logos or brand images would be permitted on the packaging. The product brand name would appear in uniform font on the front, top and bottom of the package, and graphic health warnings would continue to be displayed. This measure was notified to the WTO on 8 April 2011 (G/TBT/N/AUS/67).

Fourteen Members raised trade concerns with Australia’s measure. While Members did not challenge Australia’s public health objectives, they argued that such regulations could create an unnecessary barrier to trade, since they viewed the measure as more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve Australia’s public health objective.  

Some members argued that Australia had not provided sufficient scientific evidence linking tobacco plain packaging to a reduction in tobacco consumption, especially among young people. In other words, they questioned the efficacy of the measure to achieve the stated objective.

Australia said that the plain packaging legislation was designed to protect public health. Australia stressed that 3 million Australians continued to smoke daily and that tobacco was responsible for the death of 15 000 Australians every year. In addition, smoking imposed annual costs of AUD31.5 billion on Australia’s economy and society. Plain packaging legislation was recommended by Australia’s leading public health experts, as it would eliminate one of the last remaining forms of tobacco advertising: packaging. Australia declared that plain packaging was the next logical step in its tobacco control efforts, and was part of a suite of new measures including a 25% increase in tobacco excise tax, increased investment in social marketing anti-smoking campaigns, and efforts to curb tobacco advertising on the internet.

A representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) attended the meeting and said that tobacco was a grave threat to public health as 6 million people die every year due to smoking. The WHO added that tobacco consumption was the leading global cause of preventable death, and plain packaging was effective in curbing tobacco consumption. It was noted that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) (1) contains a number of provisions relevant to plain packaging of tobacco products.

This issue was also raised at the TRIPS Council on 7 June 2011

Anti-smoking regulations have frequently been discussed in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee over the last two years, as members have intensified their fight against smoking for public health reasons. Brazilian (G/TBT/N/BRA/407) and Canadian regulations aimed at banning additives and flavourings in tobacco products have also been discussed in TBT Committee meetings. A summary of these debates can be read here:

TBT Committee meeting 5 and 6 November 2009
TBT Committee meeting 24 and 25 March 2010
TBT Committee meeting 23 and 24 June 2010
TBT Committee meeting 24 and 25 March 2011

Environment-related measures

Carbon footprint labelling

Members raised concerns about the negative trade impact of France’s Grenelle 2 Law which included provisions on product carbon footprint labelling and environmental lifecycle analysis. The law will put into place a one-year trial program of carbon footprint labelling as of 1 July 2011. In particular, concerns focused on the inclusion of transportation emissions in the product carbon footprint, and the fact that carbon footprint labelling could eventually be made mandatory in France. Members argued that this law could disadvantage imported goods in the French market.

Other Environment-related Measures

Indonesia expressed concerns about the potential impact of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive on its palm oil industry, and questioned how palm oil would be treated under the sustainability certification criteria for biofuels outlined in the Directive.

The US, the EU, Japan and Argentina expressed concerned about the scope and complexity of Mexico’s Energy Labelling Measures. In particular, the potential for consumer confusion and a lack of guidance for industry, including on testing procedures, were discussed.

The US raised concerns about the trade impact of Colombia’s Commercial Diesel Truck Emissions Regulation. The US noted that diesel fuel currently available in Colombia was not sufficiently refined to meet the ultra-low sulphur content standard laid out in the regulation, which all commercial trucks sold in Colombia would be required to meet as of 2013.

Up coming event

A workshop on Regulation Cooperation is scheduled for 8-9 November 2011.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the TBT Committee will take place on 10-11 November 2011.

NOTE: 1 - The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international treaty administered under the umbrella of the WHO.  The FCTC was negotiated in response to concern about a globalized tobacco epidemic, and aims at reducing demand and supply for tobacco.  It entered into force on 27 February 2005. The Convention currently has 173 Parties. 138 of 153 WTO Members are parties to the FCTC. back to text

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