Australian High Court rules against big tobacco on plain packaging

AFTINET Media Release:

“We welcome the High Court decision as a vindication of the Government’s right to regulate tobacco as an addictive substance that still kills 15,000 Australians per year,” Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said today.

“But the government still faces two more legal challenges from big tobacco, which is desperate to stop Australia setting an example by implementing the plain packaging recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

“Some trade agreements have clauses which allow foreign investors to sue governments, on the grounds that a law or policy ‘harms’ their investment. The Australian government policy is to oppose these clauses in current and future trade negotiations. However, they do exist in some past trade agreements, and big tobacco is taking full advantage of this,” explained Dr Ranald.

“The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently suing the Australian government over its tobacco plain packaging legislation, using an obscure 1993 Hong Kong- Australia investment treaty. Philip Morris is actually a US-based company, but could not sue under the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, because public opposition kept this clause out of the agreement. Philip Morris rearranged its assets to become a Hong Kong investor in order to use an obscure treaty. This shows how giant global companies can abuse such clauses in trade agreements,’’ said Dr Ranald.

“Big tobacco is also reportedly providing legal advice and funding to the Ukraine and Honduras Governments which have launched a complaint in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the grounds that the Australian legislation is contrary to a WTO intellectual property agreement. WTO complaints must be made by Governments, not companies,” added Dr Ranald.

“Big tobacco and other global corporations are lobbying hard to include the right of foreign investors to sue governments in the current negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) between the US, Australia, New Zealand and six Asia-Pacific countries,” said Dr Ranald.

“We congratulate the government on its victory today and urge it to continue to oppose the right of foreign investors to sue governments in the TPPA and all current and future trade negotiations”.