Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 2005

EU Commission Press Release (IP/05/298), 15 March 2005

WTO - Dispute Panel upholds EU system of protection of “Geographical Indications”

A report by a WTO panel published today confirms that the EU system of protection of geographical indications for agricultural products complies with WTO rules. Geographical indications provide protection for products identified with a particular geographical location, for example Roquefort or Prosciutto di Parma. Rejecting the arguments of the United States and Australia , the WTO ruled that the EU's system for protecting these names is essentially compatible with WTO rules, including the requirements of the TRIPs Agreement. The WTO confirmed in particular that Geographical Indications can coexist with prior trademarks. The ruling confirms the rights of the holders of Europe 's approximately 700 Geographical Indications.

“I am very pleased with this outcome and look forward to working together with all WTO Members to strengthen the protection of quality agricultural production,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

"By confirming that Geographical Indications are both legal and compatible with existing trademark systems, this WTO decision will help the EU to ensure wider recognition of Geographical Indications and protection of regional and local product identities, which is one of our goals in the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations," added Peter Mandelson, Commissioner for Trade.

The panel was brought by the United States and Australia against the EU system of protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs other than wines and spirits. The panel report upholds the integrity of the EU system and rejects the majority of the claims made by the United States and Australia .

The protection of geographical indications is an integral part of the EU's quality policy, while the EU is at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the protection of GIs internationally. This responds to consumer demand for quality products, and at the same time promotes the development of rural communities and specialized agricultural products. The Panel upholds an important element of the EU system, which is the requirement for inspection structures to verify that the conditions for each GI are fulfilled in order to benefit from the high level of protection against unlawful use.

On the issue of the relationship between GIs and trademarks, the panel confirmed that the provision of the EU system allowing for the ‘coexistence' of GIs with prior trademarks under certain circumstances is fully justified under the TRIPS Agreement.

In addition, the EU has repeatedly sought to dispel charges that its system discriminates against GIs relating to geographical areas in third countries in violation of the WTO national treatment rules. In fact, the EU system is open also to applications for registration of GIs from third countries. The panel report asks the EU to clarify the rules in this respect, to allow producer groups from third countries to apply directly rather than having to go through their governments.

A geographical indication (such as “Roquefort”) testifies to the link between a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of a product and its geographical origin. There are approximately 700 GIs registered under the Regulation today.

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