Cuba claims that plain tobacco packaging is anti-capitalist

by on May 3, 2014 at 6:22 am in Law | Permalink

Cuba has waded into the debate over plain tobacco packaging and has complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the UK’s plans.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Cuba claimed that the law would be “anti-capitalist” and would threaten free trade. The Communist country added that plain packaging would lead to an increase in counterfeit cigarettes, leading to health risks to people smoking black market cigarettes.

Cuba’s letter to the WTO’s Committee to Technical Barriers on Trade concluded: “Cuba expresses great concern over the UK Parliament’s decision to move ahead with the process of implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products, without waiting for a settlement of the complaint against Australia before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.”

That is not the silliest statement they have issued.  There is more here, and for the pointer I thank R.

affenkopf May 3, 2014 at 7:20 am

Comment from the linked article:

“Actually, Cuba’s complain does not use such language (refer to http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds458_e.htm)
It mainly deals with trademark and geographical indication of origin protection, which the Australian law fails to deal with properly, potentially resulting in unfair competition between Habano cigars and cheaper knock-offs.”

A Telegraph article being untrue, what a surprise.

prior_approval May 3, 2014 at 7:28 am

What, Germans aren’t looking at euro notes and rejecting Greek ones? ‘Ordinary Germans have begun to reject euro bank notes with serial numbers from Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, raising concerns that public support for monetary union may be waning in the eurozone’s anchor country.’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/2791587/Support-for-euro-in-doubt-as-Germans-reject-Latin-bloc-notes.html

An article from 2008, showing just how far in advance the Telegraph can peer into the future.

Or not, as the case may be.

Norman Pfyster May 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

To be fair, the Telegraph article did not put “anti-capitalist” in quotes, so there is not an implication that Cuba actually used that term in a statement.

The Anti-Gnostic May 3, 2014 at 11:39 am

Even Cubans know that Business 101 trumps Econ 101.

prior_approval May 3, 2014 at 7:24 am

Well, the link sources this article – ‘Cuba accuses UK of being anti-capitalist over plain packaging plans’ A headline, one notes, that does not imply ‘anti-capitalist’ is a direct quote, or even a translation.

As the article notes – ‘Cuba also said it would impose unnecessary restrictions on international trade and undermined the provisions of international trademark legislation.

Cuba’s letter to the WTO’s Committee to Technical Barriers on Trade concluded: “Cuba expresses great concern over the UK Parliament’s decision to move ahead with the process of implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products, without waiting for a settlement of the complaint against Australia before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.

“We therefore respectfully ask that the British Government refrain from adopting such packaging until there has been a definitive ruling in the dispute currently before the DSB, so that this measure may be assessed on the basis of those findings.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/cuba/10796980/Cuba-accuses-UK-of-being-anti-capitalist-over-plain-packaging-plans.html

This sounds like a trade dispute, and has nothing per se to do with ‘capitalism’ – it isn’t as if Communists of various nations didn’t trade with each other.

Whether trade implies ‘free trade’ is another debate – Dean Baker has argued for years that what are called ‘free trade’ agreements in the U.S. are simply trade agreements, often explicitly extending government granted monopolies and subsidies within a trade treaty framework.

XVO May 3, 2014 at 8:46 am

One day I have a dream that no tobacco will be discriminated against based on strain or national origin. Why do you support discrimination? Clearly uniform packaging is a solution to the terrible wrong of discrimination. There is no logical credible reason to believe Cuban tobacco is the superior strain, therefore there should be no reason for tobacco to be marked as such.

Equality!

prior_approval May 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

‘One day I have a dream that no tobacco will be discriminated against based on strain or national origin.’

Cuban tobacco is still banned in America – and basically only America.

‘All importations of Cuban cigars are illegal, including Cuban cigars that were acquired in other countries (such as Canada, England, or Mexico).

There is now an across board ban on the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin cigars and other Cuban-origin tobacco products, as well as most other products of Cuban origin.’ https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/36/~/importing-cuban-cigars)

Keep dreaming.

Topper Harley May 3, 2014 at 12:15 pm

When I was last overseas, I looked up the regs on Cuban cigars.
Not only can I not bring them into the US if they were legally acquired elsewhere, but I’m not allowed to purchase them where they are legal.

mulp May 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm

So, basically Obama should be filing complaints against the EU because you could buy Cuban in the EU and no one could prove it because it came in a plain brown wrapper just like the tobacco from the US.

ChrisA May 3, 2014 at 10:23 pm

PA – trade is trade, even when Governments do it through monopolies. It is only not trade if one Government gives the goods to the other one as a gift. In this particular case there is a very strong basis for saying that the Cuban government is not giving the tobacco to the UK, so we are definitely talking about trade. They are selling goods to the UK in exchange for money. In the UK there are many sources of tobacco from many different countries, so the Cuban tobacco has to compete with these other sources. So the Cubans are concerned that they will lose market share (and perhaps the market overall will shrink) by the introduction of these new laws on packaging. This sounds very much like a capitalist calculation to me, basically the Cubans want to make as much money as they can in the UK. So yes, this is a complaint by the Cuban government that the UK government is restricting their capitalist rights to make as much money as they can.

prior_approval May 4, 2014 at 5:22 am

It’s just, as noted above, the Cubans aren’t the one talking about trade restrictions being ‘anti-capitalist’

andrew' May 3, 2014 at 7:27 am

Why don’t all these people come up with some nice tobacco?

Michael G. Heller May 3, 2014 at 7:37 am

When I was in Cuba selling genuine Australian university programs to fake Cuban universities (with a copy of Mea Cuba in my jacket pocket) I bought counterfeit cigars nicely packaged with genuine looking Cuban labels from spiv men quite openly in smart cafeterias on the main boulevard at a fraction of the state shop price. What’s the difference? I have since given up smoking. The disgraceful political Cuban cigar monopoly cartel brought me to my senses, and in disgust I took my last puff.

Z May 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

One of the things I find amusing about modern times is how the state has muscled in on the vice rackets. In America, the government makes more from tobacco than the cigarette companies. Taxes are more than half the retail price. The government has run the alcohol business since Prohibition. They took over the gambling rackets in the 1970′s. Now they are muscling in on the drug dealers. I’ll probably live long enough to see state run narcotics stores.

Cuba was on the leading edge of public policy with their tobacco policies.

Yancey Ward May 3, 2014 at 12:10 pm

+1

David Wright May 4, 2014 at 3:31 am

+2

andrew' May 4, 2014 at 7:04 am

Write that book.

Horhe May 7, 2014 at 7:11 am

On that note, wasn’t there a book on how the Czarist Empire and the USSR afterwards derived a great deal of revenue from the manufacture of vodka and, consequently, encouraged its consumption to the detriment of less alcoholic beverages? Vice has long been a source of revenue for various states.

John Thacker May 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Considering that one of the first uses of “union label” was by the Cigar Makers’ International Union wanting to emphasize that their cigars were made by white American union members and not non-union Chinese immigrants, Cuba’s complaints seem well in hand with socialist cigar tradition.

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