EU Makes Push To Facilitate Geographical Indications In ACP Countries

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A European Union-backed project organised a conference at the World Trade Organization last week to rally Africa to the cause of geographical indications.

The protection of local agricultural products with intellectual property rights has been in order in Europe for decades and is seen as gaining ground in some developed and developing countries. However, if the African continent is showing interest, the lack of infrastructure and technical assistance has dampened the enthusiasm.

The conference held at the WTO on 9-10 May gathered over 120 representatives from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and international organisations, according to a press release. It was organised by an EU-financed program: the ACP Multilateral Trade System (ACP MTS) Programme.

The programme aims to involve ACP countries “in the multilateral trading system, enhance their national development and support their international integration,” according to their website.

During the conference, a study on geographical indications (GIs) was presented: The Protection of Geographical Indications: Generating Empirical Evidence at Country and Product Level to Support African ACP Country Engagement in the Doha Round Negotiations.

The study, carried out as an ACP MTS project, gives evidence, based on case studies, of the benefits that African members of the ACP group can derive from GI protection. This is so that the African Group can “engage in the Doha negotiations on the establishment of the multilateral register for wines and spirits and the proposed extension of additional protection to products other than wines and sprits under Article 23” of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), according to the report. TRIPS Article 23 deals with the additional protection of wines and spirits.

A number of products were surveyed in the study, such as the Oku white honey of Cameroon, Okoumé timber of Gabon, black tea of Kenya, Rwanda coffee, and cloves from Tanzania.

GIs are names used to identify products coming from specific locations or having special local characteristics, such as tequila, Basmati rice, and Colombian coffee.

GIs Help Confused Consumers

According to Felix Addor, deputy director general of the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, who was a panellist on 9 May, the GI topic has brought intense debate and frustration at the international level.

Also, trade globalisation has led to a growing confusion in consumers, he said, and GIs are a good way to restore their trust.

GIs hold an economic value-added as consumers are ready to pay a higher price for GI products, Addor said, adding that GIs have an important role “on four dimensions of human development: empowerment, productivity, equity, and sustainability.”

The first step to protecting GIs is to protect them nationally, he said, through either a sui generis system with registration, in what he described as the “EU way,” a sui generis system without registration, the “Swiss way,” or the system of trademarks, but the latter “is a little bit like pushing something into a concept that does not really fit,” he said. Some may also choose to combine both a GI and trademark protection, he said.

Factors of success for GI registrations are the specificity and the pertinence of the product, the motivation of producers, and institutional support. But without enforcement, a GI has no value, he said, and the enforcement is the shared responsibility of producers and the state.

Capacity Building, Resources Needed

Getachew Mengistie, a lawyer in Ethiopia, presented the case of Ethiopian fine coffee and said that GI protection requires capacity and resources, which are largely absent in developing countries and least developed countries. These countries need legal and financial support from international partners while simultaneously building the requisite capacity for IP asset identification, protection, exploitation and management, he said. It is important to make sure that stakeholders own the whole process, he added.

GI registration can lead to a substantial increase in exports benefits, said Massimo Vittori, secretary general of the Organisation for an International Geographical Indications Network based in Geneva, citing the example of Darjeeling tea, which yields US$30 million a year from exports. At the same time, due to the absence of an international register for GIs, legal costs to protect Darjeeling GI amounts to US$ 500,000, he said.

There is a need “to move from studying to acting,” Vittori said. Public authorities have a key role to play in providing an adequate legal framework for promoting and protecting GIs, he said. Effective technical assistance in the field of GIs is also crucial, he added.

No Trade-Offs In TRIPS/CBD Discussions, Addor Says

An international GI register for wines and spirits has been discussed for several years in the context of WTO TRIPS Council Special Sessions, and countries have been unable to find agreement on the conditions for creating this mandated register (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 21 April 2011).

A delegate from Mauritius said that GIs are primarily a domestic issue. There is a strong argument for GIs against misappropriation of names and appellations, he said, but in the context of the WTO talks, two issues are linked, he said. A proposal to extend the register to other products is linked to WTO discussions on the relationship between TRIPS and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which led to a proposal to require the disclosure of origin of genetic resources in patent applications.

According to the delegate, the relationship between the TRIPS and the CBD has an even stronger argument for the need protection against misappropriation than do GIs. The so-called W/52 coalition that gathered a large number of WTO members interested in including both the GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD issue in the Doha Round talks was shaken in April when some members such as the EU cooled their support.

Addor, from Switzerland, a vigorous proponent of GIs, said that the W/52 coalition was highly political but he understood the greater importance of the TRIPS/CBD issue for some countries over that of a GI register. However, he said, “This should not lead to ask for a trade-off among the partners of the coalition.”

If someone joins the W/52 coalition for a tactical reason, this is not particularly interesting for the other partners, he said. Every country should decide for itself if GIs are important, if the country has distinctive goods that could be GIs. Whether GIs are of interest to them or not, they should not seek a trade-off.

Africa: From Chocolate Growers to Manufacturers?

Participants from Senegal and Ivory Coast asked panellists at the GI conference about EU regulation 2000/36/EC, which regulating the composition, manufacture and labelling of cocoa and chocolate products. This regulation allows “up to 5% vegetable fat other than cocoa butter.” (Some have said that the directive would impact negatively African chocolate producers, though a recent EU study [pdf] denied it.)

The participants suggested that a particular appellation be given to chocolate manufactured with only cocoa butter, as a genuine chocolate. Under EU rules, chocolate is allowed to have up to 5 percent non-cocoa butter. In December 2010, the EU Court of Justice decided that Italy could not label chocolate products as being “pure chocolate” even if they did not contain vegetable fats other than cocoa butter.

Maybe it is time, said the participant from the Ivory Coast, for African countries to enter the production chain and provide a high-quality product that can position itself on the global market.

Sisule Musungu, Managing Director of IQsensato Consulting Ltd, in Kenya, speaking on 10 May, said important elements for GIs in Africa were the availability of legal framework, the issue of standards and of tariffs. However, he said, the key issue for GIs in Africa is switching from raw material to value added products. For GI protection to make a difference in Africa it must be a factor in the economic transformation of the African economies from raw materials to value added goods, he told Intellectual Property Watch later.

The conference called for further investigation, and a review of the relevance of different options of intellectual property protection for GIs in ACP countries. “The key issue focused on how the ACP countries could convince other WTO members to include their products for enhanced GI protection,” according to a press release.

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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