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Making the most of GI protection under the SADC–EU EPA agreement

21 September 2014

As part of the SADC–EU EPA negotiations, agreement has been reached on the mutual recognition of a range of Geographical Indications (GIs) covering some 251 EU products and 105 South African products. A commitment has been made to extending this list through cooperation with other parties to the EPA. While extending GI protection to some 356 products, the agreement also allows “coexistence of already registered trademarks”. This, for example, will allow existing local South African producers of feta cheese to continue to use the name, but will bar new entrants from using the designation. This compromise reflects the provisions of Chapter 22 Article 7.6 of the recently concluded Canada–EU FTA.

Honeybush and rooibos tea are among the South African products to which the EU has extended GI recognition. According to the South African Ministry of Trade and Industry, South Africa’s rooibos tea manufacturers “will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products that come from and are approved” by the Rooibos Council of South Africa (and the South African Honeybush Tea Association) (see Agritrade article ‘ Legal and regulatory constraints on GI protection illustrated’, 3 June 2013).

This is a significant development, for in 2012 a French company sought to register ‘Rooibos’ as a trademark in the EU (see Agritrade article ‘ French company seeks trademark rights for rooibos tea, as EU use of GIs...’, 12 May 2013), with potentially serious commercial consequences for the development of the South Africa rooibos tea industry.

Additional products to which GI protection has been extended include Karoo lamb and some regional designations for South African wines.

Editorial comment

According to an October 2012 EC review of the value of GI protection for agricultural products and foodstuffs, the “average value premium rate in the EU27” is 1.55. This means that, on average, GI-protected “agricultural products and foodstuffs” attract over one and a half times the price as the same volume of non-GI-protected products in the same category (e.g. hams).

However, securing GI recognition is only the first step in realising the full commercial value of GI protection. A range of enforcement issues need to be addressed in terms of both the basic product and value-added packaged versions of the product.

In this regard, the example of the May 2003 European Court of Justice ruling in a case launched by the Parma ham producers’ association against the UK supermarket Asda would appear to be pertinent. The ruling stipulated that “maintaining the quality and reputation of Grana Padano cheese and Parma ham justifies the rule that the product must be grated or sliced and packaged in the region of production.” The ruling effectively meant that “Parma ham cannot be sliced and packaged for sale outside the Italian region where it is produced,” unless the origin can be clearly verified by the consumer. While the ruling fell short of requiring that “all grating, slicing and packaging…take place in a product's region of origin”, “the restrictions would apply… if expressly specified in the PDO [Protected Designation of Origin].” This potentially allows for the considerable benefits that can be derived from value addition to be retained by the producer association concerned.

In the case of rooibos tea, this would require further action by the Rooibos Council to ensure that, in order to prevent adulteration and any diminution of the quality of the rooibos tea produced within their PDO, the processing, packaging and flavouring of rooibos tea is the exclusive preserve of the rooibos producer.

Such an extended protection has the potential to generate considerable additional employment in rooibos tea-producing areas, given the growing popularity of flavoured rooibos loose tea and tea bags on European markets.


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