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WTO to probe Thailand cigarette import policies


November 8, 2008

WTO to probe Thailand cigarette import policies

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is set to investigate Thailand's treatment of imported cigarettes later this month, Reuters reported, quoting a meeting agenda circulated on Friday.

The document about a November 17 meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body shows that the Philippines has lodged a second request for a panel to look into what it calls discriminatory practices against cigarettes entering Thailand.

Thailand had blocked the initial request to allow more time for talks to resolve the dispute, as is allowed under WTO rules. On the second request, a panel is launched automatically.

The Philippines said it was seeking to ensure that imported cigarettes get fair treatment at the border and in the Thai market, which is dominated by the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly.

"Currently, these basic requirements are not fulfilled because the playing field on which imported and domestic cigarettes compete is uneven," Manila told the WTO.

Thailand responded saying its customs and fiscal laws were fully consistent with WTO rules, and hoped to resolve the matter through bilateral talks.

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.

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