With the latest World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks due to take place in Cancun, Mexico, in September this year, a group of around 100 producers from 24 countries has created a new organisation called Origin (Organisation for an International Geographical Indications Network) to fight for trademark protection for their food and non-food products.
At its inaugural meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday, Origin's members called on WTO deputy director general Francisco Thompson Flores and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) deputy director Shozo Uemera to support their calls for improved international protection of geographical indications.
As well as defending the interests of producers of GI products(or PDO products as they are called in the EU), Origin will also be "a place to exchange and transfer knowledge and help producers with less experience in geographical indications," said Agnes N. Nyaga, spokesperson for Kenyan tea producers.
"There is no reason not to protect our products as well as wines and spirits. The TRIPS Agreement [on trade-related intellectual property] should not discriminate against products," stressed Anil Adlakha, managing director of the association of Indian rice exporters. "The current protection of our traditional products is inadequate. It does not fence off legitimate producers from usurpation and misleads consumers."
Fear over the inadequate protection of products was a concern common to producers from all over the world taking part in the Origin meeting yesterday. As well as manufacturers from Europe, which has one of the best GI protection systems, there were representatives from countries as diverse as Guatemala, Morocco, Turkey, Macedonia, Kenya, Guinea, India and Thailand, representing industries ranging from paprika production to basket weaving.
Pedro Echevarria, a producer of Antigua coffee from Guatemala and chairman of Origin, said that it was vital that producers from all over the world presented a united front on the issue of GI before the WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun.
"The producers of Antigua coffee are held back from fully realising the reputation of their specific product because of other producers using the name of Antigua for their coffee while not producing it in the specific area of origin. The WTO Members, in Cancun, have a unique opportunity to improve the protection of our products."
The EU, which has fought hard for protection of GI products made within the Community, has given its backing to Origin, and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was present at the Origin meeting to show this support.
"[GIs] are one of the rare intellectual property rights from which the developing countries can benefit without major investments," he said.
But despite the increased calls for protection of GI products, convincing WTO members to tighten the rules will not be easy.
A proposed register of wine and spirit terms, put forward by the EU which is seeking to prevent the use of names such as Champagne and sherry from being used by producers elsewhere, is opposed by producers in countries such as the US and Australia, and attempts to extend the list to other products - and to require all WTO members to agree to it - looks set to fail.
The full text of Pascal Lamy's presentation to the Origin meeting can be found here