Mexico tax measures on soft drinks and other beverages

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  1. Are Mexico's Measures Justified under Article XX(d)?

        1. Article XX(d) of the GATT 1994 reads:

General Exceptions

Subject to the requirement that such measures are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any contracting party of measures:


(d) necessary to secure compliance with laws or regulations which are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement, including those relating to customs enforcement, the enforcement of monopolies operated under paragraph 4 of Article II and Article XVII, the protection of patents, trade marks and copyrights, and the prevention of deceptive practices[.]

            1. The Appellate Body explained, in  Korea – Various Measures on Beef, that two elements must be shown "[f]or a measure, otherwise inconsistent with GATT 1994, to be justified provisionally under paragraph (d) of Article XX".27 The first element is that "the measure must be one designed to 'secure compliance' with laws or regulations that are not themselves inconsistent with some provision of the GATT 1994", and the second is that "the measure must be 'necessary' to secure such compliance."28 The Appellate Body also explained that "[a] Member who invokes Article XX(d) as a justification has the burden of demonstrating that these two requirements are met."29

            2. In our view, the central issue raised in this appeal is whether the terms "to secure compliance with laws or regulations" in Article XX(d) of the GATT 1994 encompass WTO-inconsistent measures applied by a WTO Member to secure compliance with another WTO Member's obligations under an international agreement.

            3. In order to answer this question, we consider it more helpful to begin our analysis with the terms "laws or regulations" in Article XX(d) (which we consider to be pivotal here) rather than to begin with the analysis of the terms "to secure compliance", as did the Panel. The terms "laws or regulations" are generally used to refer to domestic laws or regulations. As Mexico and the United States note, previous GATT and WTO disputes in which Article XX(d) has been invoked as a defence have involved domestic measures.30 Neither disputes that the expression "laws or regulations" encompasses the rules adopted by a WTO Member's legislative or executive branches of government. We agree with the United States that one does not immediately think about international law when confronted with the term "laws" in the plural.31 Domestic legislative or regulatory acts sometimes may be intended to implement an international agreement. In such situations, the origin of the rule is international, but the implementing instrument is a domestic law or regulation.32 In our view, the terms "laws or regulations" refer to rules that form part of the domestic legal system of a WTO Member.33 Thus, the "laws or regulations" with which the Member invoking Article XX(d) may seek to secure compliance do not include obligations of  another  WTO Member under an international agreement.

            4. The illustrative list of "laws or regulations" provided in Article XX(d) supports the conclusion that these terms refer to rules that form part of the domestic legal system of a WTO Member.34 This list includes "[laws or regulations] relating to customs enforcement, the enforcement of monopolies operated under paragraph 4 of Article II and Article XVII, the protection of patents, trade marks and copyrights, and the prevention of deceptive practices". These matters are typically the subject of domestic laws or regulations, even though some of these matters may also be the subject of international agreements. The matters listed as examples in Article XX(d) involve the regulation by a government of activity undertaken by a variety of economic actors (e.g., private firms and State enterprises), as well as by government agencies. For example, matters "relating to customs enforcement" will generally involve rights and obligations that apply to importers or exporters, and matters relating to "the protection of patents, trade marks and copyrights" will usually regulate the use of these rights by the intellectual property right holders and other private actors.35 Thus, the illustrative list reinforces the notion that the terms "laws or regulations" refer to rules that form part of the domestic legal system of a WTO Member and do not extend to the international obligations of another WTO Member.36

            5. Our understanding of the terms "laws or regulations" is consistent with the context of Article XX(d). As the United States points out37, other provisions of the covered agreements refer expressly to "international obligations" or "international agreements". For example, paragraph (h) of Article XX refers to "obligations under any intergovernmental commodity agreement". The express language of paragraph (h) would seem to contradict Mexico's suggestion that international agreements are implicitly included in the terms "laws or regulations".38 The United States and China also draw our attention to Article X:1 of the GATT 199439, which refers to "[l]aws, regulations, judicial decisions and administrative rulings" and to "[a]greements affecting international trade policy which are in force between a government … of any Member and the government … of any other Member". Thus, a distinction is drawn in the same provision between "laws [and] regulations" and "international agreements". Such a distinction would have been unnecessary if, as Mexico argues, the terms "laws" and "regulations" were to encompass international agreements that have not been incorporated, or do not have direct effect in, the domestic legal system of the respective WTO Member. Thus, Articles X:1 and XX(h) of the GATT 1994 do not lend support to interpreting the terms "laws or regulations" in Article XX(d) as including the international obligations of a Member other than that invoking the provision.40

            6. We turn to the terms "to secure compliance", which were the focus of the Panel's reasoning and are the focus of Mexico's appeal. The terms "to secure compliance" speak to the types of measures that a WTO Member can seek to justify under Article XX(d). They relate to the design of the measures sought to be justified.41 There is no justification under Article XX(d) for a measure that is not designed "to secure compliance" with a Member's laws or regulations. Thus, the terms "to secure compliance" do not expand the scope of the terms "laws or regulations" to encompass the international obligations of another WTO Member. Rather, the terms "to secure compliance" circumscribe the scope of Article XX(d).

            7. Mexico takes issue with several aspects of the Panel's reasoning related to the interpretation of the terms "to secure compliance". We recall that, according to the Panel, "[t]he context in which the expression is used makes clear that 'to secure compliance' is to be read as meaning to enforce compliance."42 The Panel added that, in contrast to enforcement action taken within a Member's legal system, "the effectiveness of [Mexico's] measures in achieving their stated goal—that of bringing about a change in the behaviour of the United States—seems ... to be inescapably uncertain."43 Thus, the Panel concluded that "the outcome of international countermeasures, such as those adopted by Mexico, is inherently unpredictable".44

            8. It is Mexico's submission that the Panel erred in requiring a degree of certainty as to the results achieved by the measure sought to be justified.45 Mexico also asserts that the Panel, in its reasoning, incorrectly relied on the Appellate Body Report in US – Gambling.46 We agree with Mexico that the  US – Gambling  Report does not support the conclusion that the Panel sought to draw from it. The statement to which the Panel referred was made in the context of the examination of the "necessity" requirement in Article XIV(a) of the  General Agreement on Trade in Services, and did not relate to the terms "to secure compliance". As the Appellate Body has explained previously,
              "the contribution made by the compliance measure to the enforcement of the law or regulation at issue"47 is one of the factors that must be weighed and balanced to determine whether a measure is "necessary" within the meaning of Article XX(d). A measure that is not suitable or capable of securing compliance with the relevant laws or regulations will not meet the "necessity" requirement. We see no reason, however, to derive from the Appellate Body's examination of "necessity", in

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