No Progress On GI Register As Issue Moves To Higher LevelPublished on 24 November 2005 @ 5:15 pm
By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch
The chairman of the World Trade Organization group that has discussed the proposal for a geographical indications register for wines and spirits said in a draft report that there has been no progress in the talks, and asked ministers for guidance on the mandate in order to find a solution at the December WTO ministerial in Hong Kong.
Chairman Manzoor Ahmad, ambassador of Pakistan to the WTO, told Intellectual Property Watch that despite a number of meetings, there are still disputes between the parties and he had asked the ministers to agree through a “bottoms-up approach.”
The key remaining differences are the legal effects at the national level of a register for wines and spirits, as well as participation in the registry system. The question is whether the system should apply in all WTO members or only in those opting to participate, Ahmad said.
He urged delegates to take note of the report and intensify their discussions.
The report has been sent to the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), which is responsible for all the items on the negotiating agenda set out at the 2001 WTO ministerial in Doha, Qatar. The TNC will draft an overall text for Hong Kong, Ahmad said.
The geographical indications (GI) register has been discussed in a special session of the Council for the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The issue is part of the “single undertaking” in Hong Kong, meaning that nothing can be finally agreed until everything else is agreed. The mandate of the special session is set out in paragraph 18 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.
Ahmad said the issue probably would not be discussed in his group again, but could be discussed by the TNC chair if the whole text for Hong Kong is debated. The TNC chair will hold a meeting on 30 November, he said.
The cut-off date for the chairmen of various groups to come up with their draft reports was 23 November, Ahmad said. But a WTO official noted that there had not been any official deadline set, though for practical reasons reports needed to be submitted to allow the WTO director general to work on his own report. It was unclear at presstime what other reports might have been submitted.
An European Union official said that the EU is content with the work it has done to advance the issue but disappointed that no progress has been made. He noted, however, that the special session report is merely procedural and the EU is optimistic that something can be done in Hong Kong, although it is aware that the GI register is part of a larger negotiating package.
The GI register is the only TRIPS issue that is formally under negotiation as mandated by the Doha Declaration. WTO members vary on whether other intellectual property issues related to the implementation of existing agreements must be negotiated.
GI protection means that products deriving their names from certain geographical locations, such as Parma ham, could not be produced under the same name by anyone from another location.
The GI register “has been controversial right from the beginning,” according to Ahmad. While the European Union wants a GI register to be mandatory in order to give additional protection to the rights holders of the sources of wines and spirits named after geographical names, newer countries such as the United States want it to be a national database that could be consulted on a voluntary basis, he said.
Wines and spirits already enjoy protection under Article 23.4 of the TRIPS agreement. Article 23.4 mandates that negotiations on “the establishment of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines eligible for protection” shall be undertaken in the TRIPS Council.
Ahmad noted that the issue of a GI register for wines and spirits definitely would be discussed in Hong Kong but he was not sure to what extent.
Linking All the GI Issues?
The special session only discussed the GI register and not a proposal to extend the GI scheme to other products, nor implementation of a so-called “clawback” provision, which would protect 41 products whose names have so far not been protected. The protection would thus be retrospective so that the production of items using these names elsewhere would have to be halted, an EU delegate said.
Ahmad said that all these issues were linked but that it had been difficult to discuss them together as they had been divided into two committees.
But Ahmad predicted that when it comes to finding a political solution, the GI register, GI extension and the clawback proposal would be linked.
As for intellectual property issues having been discussed before Hong Kong, Ambassador Hyuck Choi of Korea has been chairing discussions on TRIPS and public health (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 22 November), Ahmad the GI register, and WTO Deputy Director General Rufus Yerxa the GI extension and the issues related to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a WTO official said. The CBD issues include a proposed requirement to disclose the source of material in patent applications, which some countries argue would reduce “biopiracy” in their nations.
However, only the special sessions report to the TNC, so the other three issues do not go to the TNC, the WTO official said.
Some sources in Geneva have said that GIs is the only TRIPS Council issue that is “moving.” But Atul Kaushik, first secretary at the Indian mission, said on 23 November that the CBD issue had “moved further than the GI issue.” He referred to the EU’s statement from 10 October linking GIs to agriculture, saying that the EU had moved its “eggs into a second basket” (IPW, Vol.2, No. 9, p 2). CBD has, however, stayed in the “outstanding” issues category.
Kaushik also noted that the opposition was more polarised in the CBD issue with the EU and some developing countries (but with less support than the EU had hoped for) supporting GIs and the US and the new world opposing it.