Cuba is seeking to overturn Australia’s tough tobacco labeling rules of the World Trade Organization, the trade body said on Monday, the first time that Havana used the forum directly confront with other nations over its commercial laws.
Cuba, the world’s dominant producer of fine cigars, has filed a “request for consultations” with Australia, Keith Rockwell, a spokesman for the W.T.O, said from Geneva, where the organization is based.
The two now have 60 days to reach an agreement, he said, if they are unable to resolve their differences in that time, the next step would be for Cuba to begin a formal problem with the establishment of dispute settlement panel.
The request was filed on Friday, but made public on Monday, Mr. Rockwell said.
Cuba is joining Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic in challenging Australia’s tobacco-labeling laws at the W.T.O. All four countries have argue that the provisions of 2011 Australian legislation, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, have created a “technical barriers” to trade and violate the rights of intellectual property rights.
If Australia is ultimately found to have broken W.T.O rules, it must either bring their laws into compliance or face retaliation in the form of higher tariffs on Australian goods.
As part of a national anti-smoking drive, Australia has passed some of the world’s toughest laws on the labeling of cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco products, which prohibits “the use of logos, brand images and promotional text” and strictly regulate the use of trade marks. Tobacco in Australia is sold in standard dark green box with gruesome images of people with diseases caused by smoking.
Australian and Cuban officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
Cuba, seeking to revive the stagnant economy in recent years has allowed a more free market activity. She joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, shortly after the founding of the group, but had never brought a formal challenge. He has been involved in cases brought by others, including a dispute between manufacturers of spirits Pernod Ricard and Bacardi over the U.S. rights to the brand of rum Havana Club.
Cuba exported $ 215 million in cigars in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the Agency for National Statistics. Cigar sales are handled Habanos, 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban government and the tobacco companies Altidis, division Imperial Tobacco.
Habanos said exports of Cuban cigar exports grew in 2012, despite the economic downturn in Spain and France, with the top two markets, and sales in China, its number 3 of the market, rose with 6 percent. A U.S. embargo imposed in 1962 prohibits the import of Cuban cigars into the United States
Emily Morris, an expert on the Cuban economy at University College London, said that overseas sales of cigars make up only about 1.3 percent of the total exports from Cuba, and that Australia was only a small part of it. “They seek the protection of marks for their premium cigars,” Ms. Morris said. “Many people buy cigars is based on a wonderful package.”
Cuba’s willingness to bring the WTO case shows that “it took a lot at stake in intellectual property at the present time,” she said, including in the pharmaceutical sector, where he earns more than $ 500 million a year.
The case puts Cuba in the curious finding of a democratic country to cancel health laws in the interests of the export of tobacco. The global tobacco industry has spent millions of dollars in an unsuccessful campaign against Australian law, and continues to resist the efforts of others, including the European Union, to adopt similar laws.
However, New Zealand officials have said they are planning to follow Australia’s packaging example till next year.