Oils Ain't Oils: Product Labelling, Palm Oil and the WTO
23 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2011
Date Written: October 24, 2011
Under existing food labelling rules in Australia, palm oil can be classified generically as a ‘vegetable oil’ on labels. The Community Affairs Committee of the Australian Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling — Palm Oil) Bill 2010 (Cth) (the ‘Bill’). The Bill seeks to change these rules to require that all food products containing palm oil specifically list palm oil as an ingredient. This commentary considers whether the Bill is consistent with Australia’s obligations under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (‘TBT Agreement’) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (‘GATT’) of the WTO. In particular, we focus on whether the Bill is covered by the TBT Agreement and is consistent with arts 2.1 and 2.2 of the TBT Agreement. We then turn to consider the requirements of the GATT, particularly art III:4, and whether the Bill could be saved from any inconsistency with this provision by the general exceptions in art XX by reason of its environmental and health justifications. We conclude that, if the Bill was enacted, and was then challenged in the WTO dispute settlement system, a WTO panel would probably find the Bill inconsistent with Australia’s WTO obligations.
Keywords: WTO, TBT Agreement, GATT, Palm Oil, Labelling
JEL Classification: K33, Q17, F13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation