10 Feb 2014

Minister defends plain packaging

9:56 pm on 10 February 2014

The Government is defending its right to pass a law on plain packaging of cigarettes, despite criticism from America.

A group of six leading American business organisations have banded together to call on the Government to halt its planned legislation on plain packaging for tobacco.

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The bill on plain packaging will be given its first reading in Parliament on Tuesday. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The first reading of the Smoke Free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill is due to take place in Parliament on Tuesday.

But the American group, which includes the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council and the National Association of Manufacturers, has said it believes the New Zealand bill eliminates the right of a business to use a trademark. The group said it would encourage black market trading.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said New Zealand is a sovereign country and can develop laws that are in the country's best interests.

"This is a product that kills 13 people a day here in New Zealand. Had we known about that when tobacco was introduced into our country, we would never have allowed it. That's our rangatiratanga, that's our sovereignty, to do what's right for us in New Zealand.

William Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday the bill violated New Zealand's international trade obligations.

"Government's don't have complete freedom to do whatever they want if they subscribe to the international system. As it happens, New Zealand is a leader in the WTO (World Trade Organisation). Former prime minister Mike Moore was the director general. Your ambassadors to the WTO have led and chaired the agriculture committees for years. And New Zealand has generally been the forefront of countries that have been arguing that everyone should respect the rules."

Mr Reinsch did acknowledge that some of the National Foreign Trade Council's members were tobacco manufacturers.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government would debate legislation to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products but will not pass it into law until the results of legal challenges to similar Australian legislation are known.

Mr Key said on Monday that Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations are ongoing and it is not yet clear how plain packaging laws would affect the agreement.