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Strengthening commercialization of Asian food products recognized and protected under appropriate Geographical Indication national and international legal frameworks
In June 2009, the European Commission organized in Bangkok (Thailand) a regional seminar on potential means to strengthen the Asia agri-food supply chains with a view to support framers through the introduction of a scheme for registration and protection of products under the Geographic Indication (GI) concept as developed by the World Trade Organization. WTO defines GI as "a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin."

By opposition to the concept of trade mark (1) , any GI points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product originating from that place. Since those qualities depend on the place of production, a specific "link" exists between the products and their original place of production.

It is well known that GIs are understood by consumers to denote the origin and the quality which a specific product has acquired. If not adequately protected, such reputation, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operators.

False use of GIs is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers as the risk is that consumers may be deceived into believing that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, while they are in fact getting an imitation. In addition legitimate producers are deprived of valuable business and the established reputation of their products is damaged.

During the seminar, representatives from 16 countries in Asia-Pacific drew up action plans aimed at empowering Asian producers to apply for GI (2) in other countries to protect their products and turn them into household names world-wide. EU representatives described the GI legal frame work, including Appellation d’origine (3) , currently in force in European countries.

National GIs are protected in accordance with international treaties and the pertinent national legislation under a wide range of concepts which include (1) special laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin; (2) trademark laws in the form of collective marks.
(1) A trademark is a sign used by an enterprise to distinguish its goods and services from those of other enterprises. It gives its owner the right to exclude others from using the trademark. A trademark will often consist of a fanciful or arbitrary name or device. A geographical indication tells consumers that a product is produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. It may be used by all producers who make their products in the place designated by a geographical indication and whose products share specified qualities. Unlike a trademark, the name used as a geographical indication will usually be predetermined by the name of the place of production.
(2) Examples were given by the Thai Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce, on various protected products such as "Khao Jeck Chuey Soa Hai"; "Khao Leuang Patew Chumphon"; "Kaowong Kalasin sticky rice"...
(3) An appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication. It generally consists of a geographical name or a traditional designation used on products which have a specific quality or characteristics that are essentially due to the geographical environment in which they are produced. The concept of a geographical indication encompasses appellations of origin.
or certification marks; (3) laws against unfair competition; (4) consumer protection laws, or (5) specific legislation that recognizes individual geographical indications.

In essence, unauthorized parties may not use a geographical indication in respect of products that do not originate in the place designated by that indication. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing the unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.

At the end of the seminar, participants recommended that Governments provide clear and correct definitions of GI at the national level and actively participate at the registration and protection of GIs in line with international agreements in force.

On this point, it was indicated that a number of treaties administered by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provide for the protection of GI and most notably the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property adopted in 1883 and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration. In addition, Articles 22 to 24 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) deal with the international protection of geographical indications within the framework of the WTO.

Participants requested that be build expertise for assessing registration applications based on a code of practice and highlighted the importance of coordination between public institutions and producers, while consumer’s awareness on GIs be strengthened.

They stressed that such codes of practice and guarantee systems for GIs should be elaborated through participatory approaches and industry stakeholders are encouraged to promote their GI products through local and international trade fairs and linkages with the tourism industry.

"GIs are not only worth protecting because of their connection to quality, tradition and reputation. They also make a very valuable contribution to sustainable rural development. Some studies showed that GIs serve as an important marketing tool to help farmers and producers to commercialize their traditional products whilst associating them with a specific quality of characteristic that make them more attractive to consumers. Statistics in the EU clearly confirm that consumers are willing to pay premium price for the GI products", said the European Commission Head of Delegation to Thailand.

While adding money for producers, foods of origin-linked quality constitute an important part of the world's diversity, offer consumers a wider choice and contribute to global food security.

Countries in Asia have chosen different institutional arrangements to manage such schemes which are particularly appropriate in fragile or marginalized eco-zones.

The general conclusion of the seminar was that many Asian countries would benefit from food products with local or international reputation based on the guaranty of their specific quality and origin as protected by an appropriate GIs national legal framework.

To that effect, international aide agencies have established programmes to bolster the link between a food product and its territory thus preventing delocalization, while preserving local resources, such as environment and landscape, culture and know-how.
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