Tobacco farmers smoke homemade cigarettes during a protest against a bill on stricter tobacco control outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Image Credit: AP

Jakarta: Indonesia failed to prove that a US ban on clove cigarettes, designed to prevent teenagers from starting to smoke, is unnecessary, a panel of World Trade Organisation judges said.

"The panel found that the ban is inconsistent with the national-treatment obligation because it accords clove cigarettes less favourable treatment than that accorded to menthol-flavoured cigarettes," WTO judges in Geneva said in their report Saturday.

"However, the panel rejected Indonesia's second main claim, which was that the ban is unnecessary."

Indonesia argued that US tobacco legislation, signed by President Barack Obama in June 2009, breaks global trade rules because it outlaws cloves and not the mint used to make menthol cigarettes.

Indonesia, the world's largest producer of clove cigarettes, or kreteks, has exports valued at $500 million (Dh43.4 million) a year, a fifth of which go to the United States. Studies show 17-year-olds are three times more likely to use flavoured cigarettes than people over 25, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

"The panel's conclusion was based, in part, on its finding that there is extensive scientific evidence supporting the conclusion that banning clove and other flavoured cigarettes could contribute to reducing youth smoking," the judges said on the trade arbiter's website.

When Indonesia lodged its complaint at the WTO in April 2010, the country's trade minister, Mari Pangestu, said there was ‘a discriminatory component' in the Obama administration's decision to exclude menthol from the cigarette-flavourings ban.