Geographical indications (GIs) may not receive the most fanfare among different forms of Intellectual Property, but they are crucial to discerning consumers. People pay a premium for Cuban cigars, Scotch whiskey, Darjeeling tea and other goods that are made in specific regions. Protecting GIs are also very important for the producers of those local goods. If anyone could paste a Champagne label on a bottle of bubbly, winemakers in the Champagne region of France would see their value greatly diminished.
Thanks to a new international treaty forged between France and China in early November, 2019, Champagne producers now have a new major foreign market that they can enter. On November 6, the directors of France's Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité (INAO) and China's National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) signed an agreement that sets out a framework for the two nations to collaborate on GIs for agriculture and food. Along with the directors of INAO and CNIPA, Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron witnessed the signing of the agreement.
France is renowned for its fine cuisine and regional foods, so it is no wonder that GIs are of great importance to its domestic industries. According to statistics published by the INAO, there are 122 GIs for agro-food products protected within France, and the sale of those products contributes 1.2 billion euros each year to the country's economy. A total of 74 GIs that are registered in France protect varieties of wine, and one-third of those GI-protected wines are made within the country. While GIs are undoubtedly important for France's wine industry, other domestic foods like Roquefort cheese also benefit from the protections afforded by treaties such as the recent France-China agreement.
The use of regional names as a source indicator, and the idea that such indicators should be protected, arose in the latter parts of the 19th century, growing in importance about the same time as trademarks. France is actually home to one of the world's first legal frameworks for protecting GIs. In the early parts of the 20th century, the country started awarding appellation d' origine contrôlée (AOC) certifications for food products through the INAO's predecessor. While many international agreements govern the policing of geographical indications across the world, the most recent and far-reaching of these is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). Effective as of 1995, the TRIPS Agreement governs international policies on all forms of IP, including GIs, between the 164 member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
China's agreement with France is its latest effort to improve its international standing on IP rights enforcement and the GI deal is important to its domestic agriculture industry. For example, China's Pinggu district, located about 70 kilometers from Beijing, produces 270 million kilograms of peaches every year. Peaches are highly symbolic in Chinese culture and the climate and soil conditions of the Pinggu district create very distinctive varieties of peaches that are exported to meet high demand around the world. In 2005, total sales of Pinggu peaches reached 420 million RMB (53.7 million euros), and a 2007 GI agreement with the European Union helped Chinese peach farmers improve their exports to EU countries.
The recent INAO-CNIPA agreement on GI protection is only part of the strategic collaboration both countries entered into in early November, but it does underscore the importance of GIs to the international economy. The joint action between France and China includes many political aims, such as environmental protection and cooperation in space and nuclear power sectors, and GI protections are a relatively smaller portion of the agreement on bilateral trade and cross investment. Still, the joint declaration sets out a mutual promise to work towards the completion of negotiations between China and the EU regarding a GI protection framework as well as French-Chinese cooperation on registering 86 French GIs in China and an undisclosed number of Chinese GIs in France.
The international landscape for IP protection continues to shift in a myriad of ways. If you are an agricultural producer trying to understand how GIs might impact your business, or if your retail business needs help figuring out proper labeling requirements for any GI-protected imports, Dennemeyer has the international IP experience necessary to help you get a firm grasp on the world of geographical indications.
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