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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Australia's double standard on Thailand's alcohol warning labels

Since 2010, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), including Australia, have opposed Thailand's proposal for graphic warnings on alcohol containers. This paper aims to provide an account of the arguments for/against Thailand and to examine the arguments' legal and political validity.

This paper reviews primary WTO records in relation to Thailand's proposal to reveal the arguments for/against Thailand's proposal. The paper analyses these arguments in light of WTO cases to identify the legal strengths and weaknesses of Thailand's position. The paper then considers whether the attacks on Thailand by Australia are justified in light of the Australian Government's position on (i) alcohol warning labels in Australia and (ii) tobacco plain packaging.

The legal arguments against Thailand are: only harmful alcohol consumption should be prevented; there is no evidence that graphic warning labels can reduce alcohol-related harm; the labels unnecessarily restrict international trade. There are some legal weaknesses in Thailand's proposal. Yet, Australia's opposition to Thailand cannot be justified whilst Australia is (i) mandating pregnancy-related alcohol warnings in Australia and (ii) defending its plain packaging law against similar WTO attacks.

No WTO member is obliged to challenge another member for being non-compliant. The case tests the willingness of WTO members like Australia to respect the autonomy of other countries to pursue their public health goals and trial novel interventions.

Australia's actions suggest it is willing to protect its alcohol industry at the expense of public health in Thailand.

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