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Cuba Makes First WTO Dispute Targeting Australia Tobacco Rules

Cuba initiated its first dispute at the World Trade Organization, targeting Australia’s plain- packaging requirements for tobacco products.

Cuba’s request for talks with Australia on the matter came May 3, according to an e-mail from the Geneva-based WTO today. If the two sides can’t resolve their differences in 60 days, Cuba may seek the establishment of a WTO dispute panel to rule on its complaint, Bloomberg BNA reported.

At issue are new rules that took effect in Australia Dec. 1 requiring all cigarettes sold in the country to be presented in plain packaging, without producer logos and with standardized brand-name lettering.

Cuba joins the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Ukraine in complaining that plain packaging violates WTO rules on the protection of trademarks and is more restrictive than necessary to achieve Australia’s stated objective of reducing the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to young people. Tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) and British American Tobacco Plc (BATS) have also challenged the Australian measure outside the WTO.

Cuba was an original member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the WTO’s predecessor, and maintained its membership following Fidel Castro’s seizure of power in 1959. It retained membership when the WTO was established in 1995.

Cuba declined to take part in earlier WTO dispute proceedings initiated by the European Union against the U.S. over a 1998 U.S. measure denying trademark protection for the “Havana Club” brand of rum. The successful case was brought by the EU on behalf of Pernod-Ricard SA (RI), which secured global rights for the brand name from the Cuban government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Pruzin in Geneva at pruzin@bluewin.ch

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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