Next week I’ll be at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) “Symposium(link to the Symposium website)”:http://www.wipo.int/meetings/2003/geo-ind/en/ in San Francisco to present a “paper(link to a PDF file 160kb)”:http://www.petergallagher.com.au/assets/public/PaperGallagherSFO.pdf on Geographical Indications in Global Dairy Trade.
The WTO negotiations include a debate on implementing a register of region-linked brands (called ‘geographical indications’)such as ‘Scotch’ or ‘Parmesan’. These GIs are used mostly by the Europeans to protect the brand-asset value (e.g. reputation) of established regional food, wine and spirits production. They were given special status in the WTO agreement on intellectual property (TRIPS) agreed in 1994. There is reason to believe that Europe wants to use the register, to be set up by the WTO, as a back-door means of enforcing protection of its GI brands around the world. The USA, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and other countries are opposed to giving any legal effect to the register. Brand-names such as trademarks and GIs have to be registered in every national jurisdiction because every country has different requirements for registration based on e.g. existing local use of the brand or different competition rules about the monopoly rights that a brand creates. These countries say the register should be a voluntary, information database on GI registration. In fact, European ambitions go much further than the register. The EU would like every country to give GI brand-owners absolute rights to the regional name that they register—whether or not there is any consumer benefit in the absolute right. This would mean that there’d be no possiblility of describing a cheese as an ‘Australian parmesan-style cheese’ even if the consumer understood perfectly that this meant the cheese was not made on the banks of the river Po in northern Italy. The European Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, also recently “linked(link to text of Fischler speech)”:http://www.europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=gt&doc=SPEECH/03/238|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display= protection of GIs to protection of process and production methods (PPMs). By doing so he has associated the controversy on GIs with another wide-ranging debate on the use of trade barriers to discriminate among imports based on their means of production. The WTO has always prohibited such discrimination with very good reason; such discrimination undermines the economic basis for trade in the exploitation of comparative advantage. GIs have enormous potential to limit competition in global food markets—particularly if the register extends EU practices to other countries. For more details see the “paper(link to a PDF file, 400k)”:http://www.petergallagher.com.au/assets/PaperGallagherSFO.pdf on Geographical Indications in Global Dairy Trade WIPO Symposium. You may also download a copy of the presentation as a PDF file (360kb).