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EU, Cuba spar with US over 'Havana Club' rum

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The European Union and Cuba locked horns with the United States on Tuesday at the World Trade Organization, slamming Washington's long failure to void a trademark law affecting the rum business.

The battle centres on a 1998 law which allows a US brand of rum to use the "Havana Club" name despite it already being owned by a company based in Cuba, which is in business with France's Pernod Ricard group.

The law was struck down by the WTO in 2002.

The WTO oversees respect for the rules of global commerce amongst its 159 member nations, and in 1999 was asked by the EU to assess whether the law was out of line.

The US law on intellectual property rights allows companies to use trademarks even if they were previously registered to Cuban companies.

Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1960, the year after Fidel Castro came to power and installed a communist state, seizing the property of US individuals and companies.

The WTO wrapped up its complex dispute settlement process in 2002, finding fault with the legislation, and the US was ordered to adapt it within a reasonable period of time.

As the plaintiff, the EU agreed multiple extensions of the deadline set for Washington to act.

But at a dispute settlement hearing on Tuesday, its trade diplomats told the WTO that it was time for Washington to settle the issue, officials said.

Although Cuba is not formally a plaintiff, its trade diplomats also told the session that enough was enough, a message echoed by members, including China.

Washington's trade diplomats countered that the relevant bills were before US lawmakers, and that the country was working to resolve the issue.

But critics said that lodging bills could not be considered falling into line, saying Washington had had ample time to comply.

The 1998 law banned Havana Club Holdings, a joint venture between Pernod Ricard and Havana Rum and Liquors of Cuba, which owns the Havana Club trademark, forcing it to defend its business in US courts against the Bacardi-Martini group.

As late as May 2012, the US Supreme Court refused to hear a Pernod Ricard appeal of the law, allowing Bacardi to keep selling its Havana Club brand of rum inside the United States.

Bacardi-Martini, based in Bermuda, has been distributing its rum in the US under the Havana Club brand name since 1994.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130625/eu-cuba-spar-us-over-havana-club-rum