Geographical Indications and Regional Trade Agreements: Facilitating International Partnerships for Sustainable Development
Geographical indications are “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin” (WTO 1994). This definition is included in Article 22 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO 1994).
Traditional and local products, such as food and handicrafts, are closely linked with their production areas. These products, which are physically and socially tied to the local climate, soil, and culture, can be registered as products with geographical indications (GIs). These place-based characteristics, which are strongly influenced by human-nature interactions, are embodied by the French term terroir – one of the principal words used to describe the quality of French food and beverages, such as wine.
The unique quality of these products, including textures, tastes, and flavors, reflects their ecological and cultural characteristics (Barham 2003). Stories related to the local culture are frequently evoked in branding and consumer relationships. Local products that are not mass-produced are strongly connected with other products from the same locality and the terroir of production areas, and these interlaced connections are cultivated over generations. Such relationships interactively form regional socio-ecological characteristics and local human capital, including knowledge, traditions, and cultures (Bérard and Marchenay 2006; Bowen and Zapata 2009; Gugerell et al. 2017).
GIs can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly the targets on partnerships for the SDGs, by enhancing the sustainability of the categories under trade; capacity-building, especially for indigenous and local communities; systemic issues on policy and institutional coherence; and technology. The following sections will discuss the trends in using GIs and the potentials and challenges of GIs in increasing collaboration among various sectors and regions. The potentials of GIs related to aspects of regional development, environmental management, and benefit-sharing, along with the conventional roles of such indications, will particularly be explored.
Geographical Indications and Intellectual Property
Local products associated with the terroir of production areas, and the production areas themselves, have historically been shared in their respective regions. In this regard, the products, as well as the use of regional or local names, can be considered “common resources” in the area. Hence, it is conventionally impossible to register such names as trademarks because they are openly available to the public as a shared resource. Alternatively, terroir develops the “authenticity” of a product, which is used to claim the “exclusive rights” to the product and establish the brand of the product for its sustainable production (Spielmann and Gélinas-Chebat 2012).
As such, various stakeholders benefit from the historical characteristics and contexts of products associated with terroir. Production knowledge and practices are shared in diverse ways, and they are neither totally open nor closed (Kohsaka et al. 2015; Uchiyama et al. 2017a). This tension of having both open characteristics (i.e., shared knowledge, common practice, and use of regional names) and necessary exclusivity (i.e., preventing counterfeits, know-how, and limiting the boundary for use of names) poses a unique challenge for products associated with terroir, thus requiring specific legal and institutional instruments, including the protection of intellectual property (IP) through the use of GIs.
The historical contexts of products associated with terroir provide the space where various stakeholders discuss their relationships with local products. The open and closed characteristics of local products are critical in IP matters, especially in the institutional design and implementation of GIs. To conserve and retain the knowledge, traditions, and culture related to local products, international and global partnerships need to facilitate the institutional design and implementation of IP rights protection. IP issues are related to the trade and economic aspects of production areas, as well as the identity of local communities (Sunder 2012).
Trends in Using Geographical Indications
IP protection schemes under GI systems, such as the scheme of the European Union (EU), are well known. Other countries besides members of the EU, such as the USA, Mexico, China, Japan, and Thailand, have introduced GIs to protect the geographical names of food products that have unique qualities based on the historical and socio-ecological characteristics of their production areas (Passeri 2017; Kizos et al. 2017). The USA opposes the expansion of GIs, partially because of overlapping names with European regions resulting from a long history of immigration, but some industries in the country try to facilitate the protection of GIs (Yu 2017).
GIs, a scheme under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), are an IP protection scheme for products associated with terroir. The TRIPS Agreement, a multilateral agreement under the auspices of the WTO, was negotiated in 1994 and came into effect in 1995.
Given the diverse backgrounds of countries introducing GIs, the WTO established a definition of GIs in Article 22 of the TRIPS Agreement (WTO 1994). It is clear from the text that the aim of GIs is to protect producers’ valuable IP rights by protecting the name of their products. GI schemes are not for the protection of the product itself. However, they are applied to avoid misuse, counterfeit production, and any other practices that may mislead consumers. Any producer within the certified geographical area – that concerns the uniqueness and conducts certified production processes – of a particular product has the right to use GIs. In concrete terms, producers whose production is within certified environmental and cultural conditions, as well as with registered production processes for GI-registered products, can use the registered name to sell and promote the products.
International legal frameworks for the protection of GIs began to emerge as a result of the Paris Convention of 1883 and the Madrid Agreement of 1891, through which regulations vis-à-vis indications of source were developed. In the Paris Convention, the regulatory framework of the Appellations of Origin was also developed, and the latest agreement on the Appellations of Origin is the Lisbon Agreement of 1958. The Appellations of Origin was originally developed in France to fight counterfeit products. The related law was enacted in 1905, and a law in 1935 related to the protection of the wine market adopted the L’Appellation d’origine protégée for the protection of the Appellations of Origin. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is the French regulatory framework to protect products for which the principal steps for production are conducted with traditional techniques within certified areas.
Geographical Indication Schemes
The general concept of GIs is shared across the globe, but the specific schemes vary from country to country. For example, the differences between the schemes of the EU and Japan can be seen in the history and types of GIs.
PDO is a scheme to register and protect products that have “production steps of which all take place in the defined geographical area” (Reg [EU] No 1151/2012, Art. 5). PDO is basically equivalent to AOC in France. PGI is a scheme for the products that have “at least one of the production steps [including processing or preparation] of which take place in the defined geographical area” (Reg [EU] No 1151/2012, Art. 5). The definitions of PDO and PGI show that the degree of connection PDO products have with their production areas can be stronger than that of PGI products.
France and Italy have been implementing their GI systems for a long time. Other countries, such as Austria and Japan, introduced the GI system as an agricultural policy strategy only recently (in 1995 for Austria and in 2015 for Japan) to encourage small-scale farms to produce value-added products and differentiate themselves in the globalized food system. Re-localizing food is the subject of strong scientific and public debate. Such food products are regarded as place-based products supported by local food systems and landscapes under globalization. GI-registered products can be consumed beyond the countries that have production areas of individual products, and social movements can facilitate product circulation toward local and global sustainable development (Sylvander et al. 2011).
Geographical Indications for Regional Development and Environmental Management
GIs, which can be applied through international partnerships such as mutual authentications, can improve regional socioeconomic and environmental conditions. GIs can help achieve the SDGs that focus on regional development or biodiversity and ecosystem services management.
The socioeconomic impacts of GIs on regional development and local livelihoods vary from product to product. For example, Bouamra-Mechemache and Chaaban (2010) analyzed factors that facilitate producers’ adoption of PDO in the French blue cheese industry. They identified that the price of blue cheese was approximately 40% higher for PDO products than for non-certified ones. To produce PDO products, it is necessary to use relatively expensive regional materials, which increases production costs. However, the market price can potentially offset this increase. In this context, producers of PDO products have greater advantage than producers of non-PDO products (Bouamra-Mechemache and Chaaban 2010).
In contrast, PDOs may not have obvious positive effects on consumer choice of certain products. There is some evidence that the net positive effects of PDO are relatively few on certain products. For instance, Mesías et al. (2010) analyzed the influence of PDO certification on consumer choice when purchasing Spanish Iberian ham. According to their study, consumers revealed that they liked Iberian ham with a PDO because it guarantees various characteristics, such as types of feed that consumers are not familiar with. Meanwhile, when consumers selected products, it was also clear that they tended to pay attention to the price and type of ham rather than PDO certification. The results of the analysis suggest that there are relatively few consumers who are willing to pay a premium for PDO-certified Iberian ham.
GIs also have the potential to enhance local livelihoods and biodiversity. The use of such indications can enhance the economic development of local communities, as well as improve environmental management through the conservation of indigenous species and socio-ecological systems connected with local food production. This concept, although not always popular among countries with GI schemes, are supported by public institutions in several countries. To illustrate, the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office (BEDO) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand is an institution that tries to facilitate benefit-sharing with local communities that use GI-registered products from local livelihoods, while simultaneously achieving (agricultural) biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. The BEDO has a three-pillared concept of GI use: “local content,” “eco-friendly product,” and “future of the origins.” It emphasizes the relationships between local socioeconomic activities and biodiversity.
The socioeconomic effects of GIs are often discussed in terms of regional development and local branding (Van Caenegem et al. 2014). GIs are schemes to register products with strong connections with their local socio-ecological contexts, and ecological aspects can be fundamental for GI-registered products. GI-registered products with established brands tend to garner attention for their economic effects on their production areas. However, GI-registered products with a small number of producers and a high risk of extinction may potentially warrant more attention in terms of the GI scheme’s contribution to conservation of indigenous species and unique environmental characteristics of production areas.
For example, certain GI-registered products registered in Japan are called “traditional vegetables.” There are only a few producers of these native or heirloom vegetables, which are not well-known outside their production areas, and these producers often have no successors. In this respect, GIs can help conserve and retain local products as indigenous species and representatives of unique socio-ecological systems. GI schemes can facilitate the circulation of registered products and the sharing of benefits arising from the use of such products. This, in turn, can enhance local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.
Geographical Indications as a Benefit-Sharing Scheme
GI-registered products are sold and consumed beyond their production areas within their countries of origin and also in other countries. The monetary and nonmonetary benefits obtained by supplying and selling GI-registered products are shared among the producers in the certified geographical areas. The origins of the GI-registered products are guaranteed by the national governments, and consumers can be assured of the reliability of the products. In this respect, GI systems are similar to the fair trade system (Sunder 2012).
The nonmonetary benefits that can be derived from trading GI-registered products include capacity building, empowerment of disadvantaged groups, or simply recognizing the unique contributions of the local community, including farmers’ rights and agricultural biodiversity. Farmers’ rights (FAO 2009) include the protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; the right to participate in making decisions at the national level on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and the right that farmers have to save, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed or propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate.
GI-related recognitions and acknowledgments are very important to producers, consumers, and products. These underpin trust from consumers, encourage producers to continue or initiate sustainable production practices, and guide producing communities to form or reevaluate their identity and strengthen the sense of pride among local producers. The concept of bridging providers and users with materials and acknowledgments is developed in the Creative Commons license system, which is utilized in both the private and public sectors, even in governments of more than 30 countries (Creative Commons 2014).
Nonmonetary benefits have frequently been overlooked, since the benefits of using GIs are often assessed from an economic perspective. However, nonmonetary benefits, including acknowledgments, cannot be ignored because such benefits can build trusting relationships between producers and consumers. Such relationships can support the use of GIs as a benefit-sharing scheme. To support the provision of scientific evidence on the origin of local products, for the benefit of both producers and consumers, new technologies can be used. For example, the innovative genome-wide sequencing technology (Suyama and Matsuki 2015) can be applied to identify the genetic characteristics and origins of the products (Haas 2015; Kamau and Winter 2015; Kohsaka 2017).
As one of the characteristics of GIs, the name of GI-registered products can be widely used among producers in the certified geographical areas under certain conditions. Specifically, the right to use GIs can apply to any producer within the certified area respecting uniqueness and conducting registered production processes. GI systems require registration of the production process, and that is not required in trademark systems. In this respect, GI systems can provide greater latitude to accept producers who are willing to contribute to the production of GI-registered products, compared with trademark systems.
To use GIs as a benefit-sharing scheme, the type of products should be considered and clearly described (Marie-Vivien and Chabrol 2014). For instance, there can be different providers and users of raw materials with GI and of processed materials with GI. Providers of the latter can be farmers who produce raw materials of processed products, and users can include producers who use raw materials to make processed products with GI.
Fundamental Challenges in Operationalizing Geographical Indication Schemes: Spatiotemporal Multilayers of Geographical Indication Products
As discussed in the first section, GI schemes register local products that are strongly associated with the terroir of production areas and are related in terms of socio-ecological characteristics. From the term “geographical,” GI-registered products are intertwined with the histories of their geographical origins. In other words, these products have spatiotemporal connections with production areas. The institutional design of GIs, or case studies of individual products to evaluate the impacts of GIs, represents the bulk of research that is currently being conducted on the subject. Research on spatiotemporal aspects of local products is relatively limited.
To fill this gap, Kohsaka et al. (2018) conducted case studies on the spatiotemporal characteristics of several products. The GI system in Japan defines traditional products as products with more than 25 years of history. However, for traditional vegetables in the country, the definition of “traditional” varies. For example, the time horizon for traditional vegetables in Niigata, Nagasaki, and Higo is simply “long time ago.” For traditional vegetables in Kyoto and Edo Tokyo, it is “production was started before the Meiji period.” For traditional vegetables in Hida, Mino, Nara, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima, its “production was started before 1945.” The former definition is relatively ambiguous, while the latter definitions are strict. Thus, the vegetables have temporal multilayers and their characteristics depend on their individual histories.
The cases above, in addition to existing research and other empirical analyses, suggest that GI-registered products are diverse and rich in both their time frame and spatial distributions, allowing multiple interpretations. This rich diversity is an advantage of, as well as of value to, GI-registered products, but they cause certain tensions because of institutional settings and instruments.
Institutional settings and legal instruments frequently require standard definitions and clear boundaries, such as 25 years instead of “long time ago.” It further requires spatial boundaries, preferably without overlaps. The diverse characteristics with spatiotemporal multilayers of GI-registered products pose a unique challenge to institutions and laws. These products are highly value-added due to their origins and associations with the terroir that is embedded in local socio-ecological contexts. However, for this very reason – the diversity of their definitions and the complexity of their origins – the operation and use of GI schemes can be difficult. The underlying conflicts are similar to those between conventional laws and economic systems that rely on traditional knowledge held by indigenous and local communities, where different perspectives, values, and ethical issues need to be integrated.
Potentials and Challenges in Sectoral and Regional Collaborations
Regional Trade Agreements for Intellectual Property Management
The text on intellectual property in the RCEP will aim to reduce IP-related barriers to trade and investment by promoting economic integration and cooperation in the utilization, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. (ASEAN and ASEAN’s free Trade Agreement Partners 2012)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement was signed in 2016 after negotiations between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA, and Vietnam. However, after the USA withdrew its signature, the agreement could not enter into force.
The RCEP, like the TPP, is a regional initiative in the Asia-Pacific region. The difference between the TPP and the RCEP can be seen in their parties. Almost all the parties of the RCEP are located in Asia, with two parties in the Pacific region (Yu 2017). The latter negotiations include Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and the ten members of ASEAN, which are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The EU approach promotes GI systems to protect IP related to traditional and local products. The TPP approach is a more trademark-centric approach (Frankel 2017) that, although not necessarily against GI protection, uses trademarks or other legal means for GI protection.
Some parties of the TPP and the RCEP have existing GI obligations with the EU. In this context, conflicts among the agreements may hinder the circulation of GI-registered products in international markets. To address this issue, countries need to be consistent in their efforts when it comes to following agreements under international partnerships (Frankel 2017; Calboli and Ng-Loy 2017).
Despite the international definition of GI, the negotiations of the TPP agreements show the challenging situation in facilitating the sharing of GI systems in different countries. For example, the USA, Canada, and Australia oppose international strong protection of GIs. Their argument is that the quality of most products can be reproduced by using modern technologies, and it is difficult to identify the origin of the products under the current circumstances of technology development. Food quality discourses referring to place-based products are strongly affected by rapid technological development.
Sustainable Management of Geographical Indications Under International Partnerships
GIs are product-level certifications that can facilitate international collaboration through mutual authentications between countries. As mentioned above, GIs can be used to foster regional development and advance sustainable environmental management. As such, regional designations and product certifications can be synergistically used to facilitate products-based regional management (Kajima et al. 2017; Uchiyama et al. 2017b).
Regional designations, here, include various designation systems, such as the cultural and natural heritage systems or the Man and the Biosphere Programme established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. For agriculture, there is the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In these designation systems, local traditional products are frequently regarded as the main components of the designated areas, and they can be used as symbols of the areas.
To use local products with GI and regional designations for regional management, the relationships between the designated areas and the products need to be demonstrated to visitors and residents. To facilitate the understanding of the relationships between them, various communication methods can be employed (Sato and Kohsaka 2017). Furthermore, educational activities designed to disseminate information on GIs and regional designations, especially to share the knowledge and meanings embedded in the designated areas and their related products, should be implemented.
To optimize GI systems for regional development and environmental management, the public should be made aware of their use and function. Producers need to understand the advantages of GI systems, while consumers need to understand the differences between and among GI schemes. A questionnaire survey conducted by Uchiyama et al. (2017b) revealed that ordinary citizens in Japan are not very familiar with product-level certifications, including GIs and regional collective trademarks.
GIs are an international-level certification, and national governments promote them using the media and Internet. In Japan, however, GI certification is relatively new, having started only in 2015. The number of GI-registered products in Japan (62 products) is limited compared to the number of GI-registered products in the EU (1,371 products in the EU as of 27 Apr 2018; PDO: 634, PGI: 737). These contexts are reflected in the relatively low level of recognition of GIs in Japan.
GI systems are used to protect IP related to products embedded in local socio-ecological contexts. In this regard, they can help retain traditional knowledge that underpins the production, culture, and environment of local communities. GI systems can improve partnerships for the SDGs, particularly partnerships that actively engage indigenous and local communities, because effective IP management requires regular and transparent collaboration among actors from different sectors. Moreover, regional trade agreements can facilitate the trade of local products under appropriate schemes for IP management.
Regional trade agreements, while already in place, should be accelerated so that GI systems that can improve local livelihoods, conserve biodiversity, and protect ecosystems can be applied. GIs and regional trade agreements have positive, synergistic interactions between them. They can enable international partnerships for sustainable development, as well as positively contribute to traditional knowledge retention, regional development, environmental management, and benefit-sharing. In this respect, it should be noted that their contribution to the SDGs covers not only SDG 17 but also other SDGs related to preventing and reducing poverty and improving industry and environment.
The number of countries using GI systems is increasing. However, to ensure the longevity of these systems, the value of GIs in driving sustainable development, as well as the role of GIs in regional development and environmental management across the globe, should be emphasized in subsequent plans of action.
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