RP seeks WTO probe of Thai cigarette import rules

Reuters

Posted at Oct 22 2008 10:50 AM | Updated as of Oct 22 2008 06:52 PM

GENEVA - The Philippines on Tuesday asked for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to investigate Thailand's treatment of cigarette imports.

In its request to the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, the country made clear it was not challenging Thailand's right to impose tobacco market regulations to fit public health goals.

"What the Philippines seeks is very simple: that within whatever regulatory framework Thailand chooses for itself, imported cigarettes be treated fairly, both at the border and in the internal market, and in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner. Currently, these basic requirements are not fulfilled because the playing field on which imported and domestic cigarettes compete is uneven," a country representative said in a statement.

Thailand rejected the initial request for a WTO panel, as it is allowed to do under international trade rules, in order to seek more time for consultations about the dispute.

"We believe that Thai customs and fiscal laws are fully consistent with Thailand's WTO obligations. We also believe that this matter can be resolved bilaterally and remain open to further consultations with the Philippines," a representative from Bangkok said.

If the country makes a second request at the next Dispute Settlement Body meeting, on November 17, the panel will be set up automatically.

The Thailand Tobacco Monopoly dominates the Thai market, and the Philippines' biggest cigarette manufacturer is Fortune Tobacco Corp.

The two countries are allies in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.