More than 10 countries, including Britain, the United States, New Zealand, Mexico and Cuba, have already lodged complaints with the WTO and the move will be discussed at its next Technical Barriers to Trade committee meeting on June 21. The Australian government has raised questions about the proposed system directly with Ireland under international trade rules.
Thirteen European Union states have raised their concerns with the European Commission, and lobby groups have called for Brussels to open infringement proceedings against Dublin for breaching EU law.
Rachel Triggs, the head of market access at Wine Australia – the statutory corporation that promotes and regulates the industry – said while it was usual for individual countries to implement bespoke requirements to promote public health, it was essential that labelling requirements be “proportionate to risk, and not be more trade-restrictive than necessary”.
She said the industry had concerns the measure had the potential to undermine the principle of the European single market by introducing an alcohol-labelling system that was inconsistent with the requirements of other EU member states and were “unnecessarily trade-restrictive”.
“Ensuring there is consistency in labelling between Australia, Ireland, and other EU member states is critical,” she said.
One-quarter of member nations of the WHO have some form of health warning label on alcoholic drinks, but only South Korea currently has a warning linking alcohol to cancer risk. Other countries include partial warnings, for example on drinking while pregnant, or alcohol’s link to cancer, but Ireland says none provide such wide-ranging information about the risks on the label.
Donnelly said that one in 20 deaths in Ireland was linked to alcohol and even low levels of alcohol consumption were linked to 2.4 per cent of all cancer cases, a wide range of other health issues and high costs of medical care.
“This law is designed to give all of us as consumers a better understanding of the alcohol content and health risks associated with consuming alcohol. With that information, we can make an informed decision about our own alcohol consumption,” Donnelly said, pointing out that Ireland would be the first country to introduce such health labels.
The Irish public is overwhelmingly in favour of the measures, with a poll in The Irish Times suggesting 72 per cent of consumers agreeing that it is their right to be informed in advertising about the risks that alcohol use poses to public health.
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