Indonesia considers plain packaging for alcohol

Indonesia's government is mulling the use of plain packaging for alcohol, in the latest in the plain packaging debate. Some commentators have argued that government attempts to remove trademarks and limit packaging in areas like tobacco will lead to the same for less contentious products like alcohol, cosmetics and so on.

Indonesia already entered the tobacco plain packaging debate by filing a case at the WTO against Australia objecting to its plain packaging laws. At the same time it has regulations in place to limit trademark use on tobacco products - for more on these conflicting policies see here.

Now the government proposes to limit labelling on alcohol in an attempt to reduce alcohol consumption. The Deputy Trade Minister announced that regulations were being prepared and would apply to all alcohol content above 20%. There has certainly been a rise in spirits consumption as the country's middle class booms, leading to some health concerns about consumption. In general Indonesia being a Muslim country has relatively low levels of spirits consumption though.  Wine is limited due to high import taxes, but local and imported beer is widely consumed. These will be exempt.

A more serious problem is locally hand made (and unregulated) spirits like arak. And more seriously locally made spirits which are deceptively passed off as imported brands and periodically cause deaths - most recently last year on the holiday island Gili Trawangan off Lombok where methanol laced vodka killed tourists.

At this stage it is not clear if the rules will merely limit labelling space or whether like the tobacco regulations they will interfere with trademark use and registration.

Of course this is from a government which is leaving office in October, to be replaced by another, the result of which will be known after this month's presidential election results. But other sectors are seeing a rush of new rules in an attempt to finish the current government's work.