Legal panel to iron out GI issues with EU

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Arun S | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 15 2013, 07:20am hrs
In a bid to resolve contentious issues between India and the EU on geographical indications (GI), the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) has decided to constitute a committee of lawyers to look into the matter.

GIs are signs or names conferred on products from specific geographic regions or origins. The move comes ahead of a high-level meeting between commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma and the EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht on April 15 to decide the fate of the proposed India-EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement.

The EU is very determined on the recognition and protection of as many as 130 GIs in India as per Article 23 of the TRIPS, which provides a higher level of protection for wines and spirits (such as champagne and scotch whisky). This would forbid those other than the registrants of the GIs from Europe to use the goodwill of these special products that derive their market strength from the pecularities of the respective geographies.

The EU wants India to recognise these GIs in its designated registry, for their being on the EU's GI registry.

The orders are there to set up a committee as the EU keeps demanding changes in law to accept their registration. The committee will examine all these issues legally. This is a part of the build up to the FTA, said a senior official of the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP).

According to sources, the EU had demanded that India, under the FTA, should accord high-level protection of its GIs and wanted around 130 agricultural GIs (including cheese, ham, olive oil, confectionary, beer, spirits and wines) to be automatically registered and recognised in India without the need to go through the registration process afresh.

This is in return for such recognition of India's non-agricultural GIs in the EU.

Any automatic registration of GIs will need an amendment of the Indian GI law, which currently mandates fresh registration for products with GI registration in another country. In the fresh registration process, the GI authority gives an opportunity for anyone to raise objections for grant of registration for such products.

However, the setting up of such a committee -- also to look into whether there is a need to amend the Indian GI law -- is in contradiction with the Prime Minister-headed Trade and Economic Relations Committee (TERC), which had directed Indian negotiators not to take any IPR obligations, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, beyond domestic laws or as mandated in a WTO pact while entering into an FTA with the EU.

A GI registration gives a legal right to the registered proprietor and its authorised users to the exclusive use of the indication besides the right to obtain relief in case of its infringement. Exclusion of unauthorized persons from misusing GI would ensure genuine products of the rightful producers are marketed.

At present, the EU has imposed strict limits to the import of Indian dairy products, citing differing standards, which is seen as a non-tariff barrier. Moreover, it has a host of GIs for various dairy products like Feta, Mozzarella and Emmentaler (different kinds of cheese). The EU is trying to extend protection of these GIs to countries outside their region by requiring the country with which it is negotiating an FTA to protect some or all of its registered GIs.