GENEVA (AP)--Stepping into a dispute between rum makers, the World Trade Organization sided with the United States Jan. 2 in its effort to regulate the use of trademarks of companies seized by Fidel Castro's government.

The panel of three trade experts overturned an earlier WTO ruling against Section 211 of the 1998 Omnibus Appropriations Act, a U.S. law.

The law was introduced after intense lobbying by Bermuda-based drinks giant Bacardi, which is fighting with French company Pernod Ricard over the Havana Club brand of rum.

Pernod distributes a Cuban rum under that name worldwide, but Bacardi has registered the name in the United States, claiming it bought the rights from the original Cuban owner in 1997.

The 1998 law barred U.S. courts from enforcing Cuban brand names for products made by firms nationalized after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, effectively stripping Pernod of any right to legally challenge Bacardi in the United States.

A WTO panel last August ruled that this was illegal and ordered the United States to change the law. But the appeals panel said the law did meet an "internationally agreed minimum standard" for trademark regulations.

The ruling will likely be seen as a victory for Bacardi and the United States - even though the panel added that the U.S. law must still be changed because it is currently more difficult for a Cuban national to claim the rights to a trademark in the United States than a U.S. national.

The appeals body's ruling is final. The United States and the EU must now agree on a period for Washington to make the changes needed to meet WTO rules.

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