WHO plans global duty free liquor ban

16 December, 2009

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shocked the duty-free industry by proposing a global ban on duty-free liquor sales, a business which was worth $6.3bn last year.

The surprise proposal has been outlined in a strategy paper on possible ways to reduce alcohol consumption, which was published on December 3 last year. The document will now be discussed at a meeting of the WHO Executive Board, an inner group of health ministers from 34 leading countries, in January.

If approved, the proposal will then be put to the WHO’s full annual General Assembly in May. The 193 governments that make up the General Assembly would then be encouraged to implement the strategy paper as policy.

The European Travel Retail Council (ETRC) secretary general Keith Spinks said he had been surprised to read the proposal to tax sales of alcoholic beverage to international travellers as it had not been in earlier drafts of the paper. He said it was highly likely that the Executive Board would accept the proposal.

“Top health officials won’t be thinking about the effect of this on our industry. It is almost certain it will go through the Executive Board,” he added.

It is not the first time the WHO has had the duty-free business in its sights. Since 2005 the organisation has been trying to ban duty-free tobacco sales through its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC has been ratified by 165 countries worldwide, but has yet to be implemented by any country.

Spinks said the new proposal on liquor was different to the FCTC as it was not “binding”. “It is going to be up to each member country to decide whether to implement the proposal or not. My fear is that some countries will and some won’t, leaving us in a big mess.”

The ETRC is urging liquor suppliers, retailers and airports to lobby their governments and use their political contacts to highlight the damaging effects of the proposal. “This is a huge, bloody issue,” warned Spinks. “If this goes though, it will be a disaster for the industry.”

According to industry analyst Generation, duty-free liquor sales amounted to $6.32bn in 2008, accounting for 17.2% of the total global liquor business.

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