Posts Tagged Tobacco

The perfect (take home) exam question. Court of Appeal plain packaging v Bundesverfassunsgericht Energiewende.

Update 12 april 2017: the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal [the decision should appear here in due course], hence the Court of Appeal’s ruling is now final.

Isn’t it just a perfect exam question for a graduate course, nay this question involves so many issues it could arguably serve as one single exam for a whole law degree: such is the intensity of legal areas at issue: constitutional law, international law, international trade, regulatory law and risk analysis, intellectual property law…

Discuss why the Court of Appeal for England and Wales denied Government wrongdoing in plain packaging, while the German Bundesverfassungsgericht rejected an argument of expropriation in Energiewende yet held that German Government must nevertheless pay compensation to the energy companies involved (E.ON, RWE and Vatenfall).

Source tip: you may want to consult my former student Dr Catherine Banet’s excellent analysis on the Vatenfall issue.

Issues tip: a good way to go about it would be to draft a table of issues that both cases have in common and those which they do not (eg the Court of Appeal’s review of intellectual property). A discussion of the precautionary principle would not go amiss (in the plain packaging case: specifically whether precaution applies to uncertainty as to efficiency of remedies rather than uncertainty as to a phenomenon). A point of discussion may also be why the CA refers profusely to European precedent while the Bundesverfassungsgericht does not. Finally, any consideration of the link between the latter proceedings and the concurrent ISDS procedure, will gain you brownie points.

To fellow faculty out there: if you do use this exam Q, please do share good student answer copies.

Geert.

 

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Thank you for not displaying. Objections to tobacco display ban go up in smoke.

I have previously referred to the display ban case which Philip Morris took to the EFTA Court. I have only just recently stumbled across the eventual holding of the court which had referred the case to Luxembourg. (The Norwegian court held a year after EFTA’s judgment). Not GAVClaw style to report close to 2 years after date of issue: blame the inadequate (read lack of) system by which EFTA and indeed EU Member States report back on their eventual findings in preliminary review.

The District Court had been instructed by the EFTA Court to review whether the display ban actually affects the sale of domestic products and sale of goods from other EEA States equally. If there is de facto equal treatment, the law surfs on Keck & Mithouard’s exception for ‘selling arrangements’: no infringement of the core prohibition on quantitative restrictions to trade in the first place. (See Alberto Alemanno’s analysis of the EFTA ruling for background).

The national court suggested that the EFTA Court had not been entirely clear on how that test had to be constructed: not at any rate, it held, as a market hindrance test: i.e. that new products’ chances of entering the Norwegian tobacco market should be decisive for the question of whether a restriction exists.  It referred inter alia (at p.35 of the copy referred to above) to the fact that the Norwegian Government in its submission to the EFTA Court had suggested that even though such hindrance for new products at the time did not actually exist, it could be expected indeed hoped that this would be the case. The District Court held that in the light of this acknowledgement by the Government, had the EFTA Court found this problematic, it would and should have said so explicitly. (This in some ways might be seen as a risk for the EFTA Court’s tradition, in line with the ECJ’s approach, to practice judicial economy).

The District Court in the end decided to continue the case on the basis of whether national products have a more favourable position due to local habits and customs linked to tobacco use (at p.35): the burden of proof whether the ban actually and not just potentially affects the marketing of imported tobacco products differently than domestic tobacco products lies with PMI, the Court held. That, it said, was not established with clarity: the de facto discriminatory effect of the display ban was found to be too uncertain to be considered a trade barrier.

The Court then somewhat inconsistently (do Norwegian courts practice wide obiter?) did review suitability and proportionality (not needed if Keck & Mithouard applied). Here, without naming the precautionary principle, the Court applies an important consequence often associated with it: the reversal of burden of proof. The Court essentially wanted PMI to show clear evidence for the display ban not being suitable for restricting the consumption of tobacco in Norway, at any rate in the long term (p.48). The Court essentially relies on previous case-law on tobacco advertising and equates suitability of the display ban with relevant studies and case-law on advertising restrictions. This was bound to (although the court took some length to establish it) lead to a finding of suitability.

Finally, as for proportionality proper, the court (with cross-reference i.a. on the effect of these bans elsewhere) did not find less trade restrictive alternatives (within the context of access to information or branding at point of sale).

This judgment just has to be staple fodder for risk classes and the interaction between risk analysis and trade law.

Geert.

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Metamorphosis: Can an investment loose such qualification because of its negative externalities? The Philip Morris v Uruguay arbitration

Update 9 July 2016: the panel sided with Uruguay on the merits, in a move which must boost those rejecting criticism that international trade law, including BITs, MITs and TTIP, deny States’ regulatory autonomy.

A very interesting debate in the PMI v Uruguay arbitration on plain packaging. The decision on jurisdiction (which was taken in July this year) rejected the notion that an ‘investment’ under a BIT looses such qualification as a result of, in effect, its negative externalities. Uruguay had argued that PMI’s interests in Uruguay do not constitute a protected investment since not only do they fail to make any contribution to the Country’s development, but they actively prevent and interfere with such development, due to the health impact of tobacco consumption.

The Panel, having to establish its subject-matter jurisdiction, gave the notion ‘investment’ a broad meaning, in the absence of express language to the contrary in the BIT concerned. With reference to ICSID precedent, the tribunal declined to make ex-post economic /financial  evaluations determine its jurisdiction – all the more so since such business, economic, financial… ex post evaluation is subject to tit for tat data and figures.

The case will therefore continue on the merits.  Interesting material.

Geert.

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Plain packaging and the Australian Constitutional debate: the Act does not amount to ‘acquisition’

Update 25 May 2015 BAT and PMI now have also launched in the High Court in the UK .with BAT putting aside the Australian ruling, reported below, as distinguishable, and PMI focusing on EU trade mark laws.

As reported earlier, the High Court of Australia held in the summer that the Australian Plain Packaging regulations are not unconstitutional. It has now also released its reasons for finding so. The relevant Commonwealth constitutional provision is Section 51(xxxi) which confers upon the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws with respect to:

“[t]he acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws”.

‘Just terms’ (including compensation) are only due if there is an ‘acquisition’; this, the High Court held, is not the case here. It notes (per French CJ)

‘Taking involves deprivation of property seen from the perspective of its owner. Acquisition involves receipt of something seen from the perspective of the acquirer. Acquisition is therefore not made out by mere extinguishment of rights.‘ (footnotes omitted).

And further

‘Importantly, the interest or benefit accruing to the Commonwealth or another person must be proprietary in character. On no view can it be said that the Commonwealth as a polity or by any authority or instrumentality, has acquired any benefit of a proprietary character by reason of the operation of the TPP Act on the plaintiffs’ property rights.’

There is plenty of scope for distinguishing the Australian constitutional arguments from other jurisdictions (indeed the judgment itself refers to distinctions with the US Constitution). Moreover, as I have already flagged in an earlier posting, the legal fronts on which this battle is fought are very wide. Immediate reactions during the summer (along the lines of ‘with this judgment there is no stopping plain packaging regulations’) seemed a bit premature to me –  they do all the more now that we have had a chance to read the actual judgment.

Geert.

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Plain packaging – One battle might be over, plenty to follow

I reported earlier that the plain packaging dispute is fought on many fronts. As has been widely reported, the domestic challenge to the Australian regime would seem to have been won by the Government (we have a small wait for the full ruling to be delivered).

However, this dispute is fought on many fronts. Over at the international economic law blog, Simon Lester gives an excellent summary of the status quo on the various issues, and links to academic thought on chances of success. Evidently the plain packaging rules are not home and dry yet.

As often, one should be careful what one asks for: Tasmania is reported to be pondering a gradual ban on smoking, allowing those adults who have picked up the habit to peter it out, while banning tobacco consumption to all others. This may be in response to an often heard argument: if smoking is that bad for you, why not ban it rather than happily cashing in on the coinciding taxation. In legal terms: given the cited health issues related to tobacco consumption, may a ban be the only proportionate action? (and what does that mean in consistency terms for other health issues such as obesity, high adrenaline sports, alcohol…).

Geert.

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Exam questions, anyone? Plain packaging regulations and domestic regulatory autonomy

Postscript January 2016 Reportedly the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCITRAL rules, has declined jurisdiction. The award is to be made public here once it has been cleared of confidential data.

Postscript June 2015: I have many other posts on the issue however I thought I”d here that in June 2015, Ukraine suspended its complaint against Australia. Simon Lester collates why. And end of May 2015, Norway Norway TBT plain packaing notification its plain packaging plans to the WTO TBT Committee, with extensive pre-emption of legal arguments against it.

Postscript 22 10 2013:  on the BIT front, see the interesting defence by the European Commission of BITs in October 2013 here. Reference is made ia to the ongoing Philip Morris and Vatenfall (Nuclear energy) issues.

Faculty everywhere have been handed a treasure trove of exam questions, courtesy of ‘plain packaging’ (students please look away now).  A variety of States are in the process of introducing ‘plain packaging’ requirements on tobacco products. Although they of course vary in detail, they generally require tobacco manufacturers to strip packaging of all tailored corporate content, resorting instead to prescribed generic packaging. The ‘plain’ packaging required is generally limited to brand name in standardised fashion (font size and lettering, colour…), joined by a number of health warnings (including, sometimes, images), excise duties requirements and ingredients listings.

Plain packaging ticks all the boxes of a classic ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ dispute. It pitches the freedom of a sovereign State to pursue ‘regulatory’ interests (environment, public health, consumer protection, stability of the economy etc.) against the free trade commitments which the same State has voluntarily committed to. These trade commitments take the form of multilateral (such as the WTO, the EU’s Internal Market, or NAFTA) or bilateral (such as bilateral free trade agreements and customs unions) agreements. They most often do not, but sometimes do include procedural rights for private parties (as opposed to simply the States which have concluded the agreement) to launch legal proceedings should free trade (arguably) have been infringed. Such standing for private parties is the case in many BITs, i.e. Bilateral Investment Treaties, as well as for instance (subject to a number of whistles and bells), NAFTA.

Free trade agreements are not generally oblivious to the continuing desire of participating States to regulate the interests referred to above. Consequently they include room for ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ to continue after the conclusion of the agreement, subject of course to checks and balances.

This fragile balance between free trade and regulatory autonomy is exactly what the current debate on plain packaging is all about. The issue is being fought on many fronts: At the World Trade Organisation, Ukraine have filed a complaint in March 2012 against Australia’s plain packaging laws on the basis of the TRIPS (intellectual property) and TBT (technical barriers to trade; product regulations) Agreements. Ukraine’s complaint is supported by a number of WTO Members with tobacco manufacturing interests.

Australia’s position is eagerly anticipated by other jurisdictions thinking of doing something similar.See e.g. here and here.

At a constitutional level, issues include free (commercial) speech (see here for the related issue of graphic warnings), expropriation (of the trademark), non-discrimination (why no plain packaging on alcohol, for instance).

At a level of BITs, the issue has rejuvinated the ‘regulatory takings’ debate (do new regulatory requriements of host States amount to a ‘regulatory taking’ (as compared to a straightforward expropriation) that may be incompatible with investment protection requirements. The Uruguay-Switserland (see here and enter search term ‘ICSID Case No. ARB/10/7’) and Australia-Hong Kong BITs are among those affected. One imagines that the necessity of the measure will be hotly contested, as the actual health impact of the measure is not entirely certain. See the (controversial) ruling of the European Free Trade Association’s Court on the related issue of display bans here and the excellent analysis of prof Alemanno.

One will have gathered: all of this is excellent material for those of us teaching Trade and regulatory law. Geert.

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