Tobacco-producing nations are making their last ditch attempts to prove that Australian plain packaging laws infringe World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements at a final hearing in front of the WTO dispute settlement panel.

Starting today, and set to run until 30 October, the hearing is the second and last round of oral arguments, following an initial oral hearing in June. Honduras, Indonesia, Cuba and Dominican Republic have each brought a claim to the WTO. Australia will also be entitled to present an oral argument at the hearing.

Only governments can initiate proceedings at the WTO, however Philip Morris International is understood to be contributing to the Dominican Republic’s legal costs, and British American Tobacco towards Honduras’ costs. 

The outcome of the case is being watched worldwide by governments, health organisations and tobacco companies alike. 

Fiercely opposed by the tobacco industry, plain packaging is recommended by guidelines under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the international tobacco control treaty.

Plain packaging was implemented in Australia in 2012, has been adopted in Ireland and the UK for implementation in May 2016. It is also under formal consideration in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, France, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Turkey and South Africa. 

The tobacco industry had previously brought a constitutional challenge in Australia to plain packaging, but this was dismissed by the High Court of Australia in August 2012. 

A legal challenge by the tobacco companies to stop the introduction of plain packaging in the UK is set to be heard in mid December.