Palm Oil legislation likely to be inconsistent with Australia’s WTO obligations

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th January 2012

Two leading law experts have claimed that if proposed Palm Oil Labelling legislation were to be enacted in Australia, it would be afoul of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The claim has been made in a research article authored by Melbourne-based lawyer Elizabeth Sheargold together with Associate Professor Andrew Mitchell  of the University of Melbourne. The article was published recently in the Melbourne Journal of International Law.

The publication finding comes despite the Australian Government earlier announcing its support for the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Palm Oil) Bill 2011. If the Bill were to have been passed, Australian producers, manufacturers and distributors of food containing palm oil would be required to list palm oil as an ingredient, regardless of the amount of palm oil used. The recent Blewett report into Australian food labeling made similar recommendations that would require palm oil to be separately identifiable.

Under existing food labelling rules in Australia, palm oil is typically classified generically within the description ‘vegetable oil’ on a food label.

The authors have concluded that the proposed legislation could be challenged under the World Trade Organisation dispute settlement system. According to the authors, a WTO panel would probably find such legislation contravenes Australia’s obligation to the WTO under Articles 2.1 and 2.1 of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.