Indonesia asks WTO to rule on clove cigarette row with US

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Indonesia on Tuesday asked the World Trade Organisation to rule on a dispute with the United States over a ban on sales of Indonesian clove cigarettes.

Washington had banned the production and sales of clove cigarettes under a health act that also blocks the sales of other flavoured cigarettes such as grape, coffee or strawberry, in a bid to prevent the young from getting hooked on smoking.

But Indonesia argued that the act had not been applied uniformly as it did not cover menthol cigarettes.

"Indonesia cannot understand why menthol cigarettes can continue to be sold while clove cigarettes are banned," an Indonesian envoy told a meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body.

"We also know of no science that would support the conclusion that clove cigarettes are more appealing to youth smokers than menthol cigarettes. In fact, quite the opposite is true," added the envoy.

Underlining the importance of the clove cigarettes industry to the country, Indonesia said that the livelihoods of over six million Indonesians depend directly or indirectly on the production of such cigarettes.

As a result, "the government of Indonesia respectfully requests that ... the Dispute Settlement Body establish a panel to examine the matter."

The request was blocked by the United States, which said that it was premature for Indonesia to seek arbitration, given that Washington was preparing a scientific report related to the issue.

Under WTO procedures, the respondent country can block the first request for a panel. But if the request were to be repeated, the WTO would set up a panel to rule on the case.

© 2010 AFP

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