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Australia's Plain Tobacco Packaging Laws Are A Sticking Point For A New US Trade Deal

Australian tobacco plain packagingPhoto: Getty / Cameron Spencer

Australia’s plain packaging tobacco rules are a sticking point in talks over a new free trade agreement with the US and other Pacific nations.

An intellectual property business delegation from the US Chamber of Commerce in Australia this week sees the removal, by law, of company brands as “strange”.

They understand the health benefits but argue that a company’s brand is highly valuable, and in some cases the majority of a business’s value.

This was an issue which needed to be solved to get closer to the United States-sponsored free trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Last month Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised the possibility of a deal within three months.

He said: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations are going well. Inevitably, there are issues; there always are. There’s always horse-trading in these negotiations, but in the end, if you can come to a deal, everyone is better off.

Mark Elliot, executive vice president of the Global Intellectual Property Center, part of the US Chamber of Commerce, says the delegation was keen to have a conversation with the Australian government.

“We think it’s important for them to hear from the business community as they develop their positions,” he said.

“There are some areas of disagreement with the former government and the new government is still working through those issues.”

However, the US business community was heartened to hear Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying Australia was open for business.

The areas for discussion included copyright and trademarks, including the plain packaging of tobacco.

The Australian laws on under the counter cigarettes in plain packets have already survived a High Court challenge from British American Tobacco.

A leaked draft of a the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement shows concern about proposed enforcement measures against internet piracy and copyright, patents and other intellectual property issues

The US Chamber delegation is meeting with a range of government figures and advisers in Canberra this week as talks resume on the agreement in the USA later today.

Attorney-General George Brandis has already signalled a tougher stand against copyright infringements and internet piracy.

Earlier this year former US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich said Australians were some of the worst offenders for illegal downloads with among the highest piracy rates in the developed world.

Another area of concern is biotechnology and the 12 years free run a pharmaceutical company in the US has to market a new drug.

After that time, others can enter and produce generic versions of a drug but for the trade agreement to work all countries must have the same rule, 12 years.

Without that Australia would miss investment in biotechnology as companies went elsewhere where they could be guaranteed 12 years in the market to pay back substantial investment.

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