Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 2011

WTO News Item, 3 March 2011

ORIGIN MARKING / WINES and SPIRITS - Geographical indications draft completed swiftly but with 208 differences

In less than two months, a drafting group of negotiators has produced a complete text on the proposed multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits. But because all the present divergent positions are included, the 9-page document — presented to a formal negotiation meeting on 3 March 2011 — contains around 208 pieces of rival text, marked by square brackets.

 Several members noted that this represents a swift result after 13 years of talks that have seen a lot of views exchanged but little movement in positions.

But they said the real challenge still lies ahead — negotiating to narrow down differences and remove the square brackets, which average almost 30 pairs per side in the seven central pages. And chairperson Darlington Mwape described the ongoing drafting as “fragile and delicate” and the text as “work in progress”.

 “One can easily see the ‘work’, but I’m a bit doubtful about the ‘progress’,” an Indian delegate commented.

As before, Amb.Mwape promised to involve the full membership in the negotiation and the drafting, but only “once sufficient substance is on the table. Looking at the number of square brackets in the current text, I believe we are not quite yet in a situation where this would be constructive.” He added that he hopes for broader participation before Easter (late April). (An excerpt from his oral report is below).

In the meantime he is relying on representatives of the various coalitions to keep their groups informed and to reflect their views in the drafting.

Geographical indications are place names or sometimes words associated with a place used to identify products having a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic because they come from that place.

A single text — rather than rival documents — is an essential tool to allow negotiators to narrow down their differences more practically. Members broadly appreciated the process and several said the text can be a basis for moving ahead. Amb.Mwape repeated his assurance that the text came entirely from the members.

Special and differential treatment, and finance. New in the discussion — and in the text — are details of proposed special treatment for developing and least-developed countries. This would include delays in implementing the system and technical assistance from developed countries.

A key difference is over the delays — the “transition periods”. Some developing countries in the “W/52” group (ie those in a larger group, which includes the EU, Switzerland, India, Brazil, China, etc) propose developing countries be given 10 years after the system comes into being before they have to consult terms in the register, and 20 years for least-developed countries.

The “Joint-Proposal” group (Australia, Canada, Chile, US, Mexico, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, etc) bases its suggested transition periods on the totally voluntary form it is proposing for the system — the delays, at this stage unspecified numbers of years, would start from when a developing or least-developed country volunteers to participate in the system.

Also new in the text is a section on costs and fees, with views differing on whether the cost should be borne by the WTO’s budget — meaning all members would fund the system — or whether “user fees” should be charged to countries registering terms.

Unchanged positions. Statements will appear in minutes because this was a formal meeting, unlike previous meetings this year. Members took the opportunity to restate their positions for the record:

legal effects or consequences and whether the proposal of the EU and its allies would be “extra-territorial” (registration by one country creating obligations in other countries’ legal systems) and shift the burden of proof for example on whether a term is eligible for protection in other countries

participation — whether this would be entirely voluntary or, as the EU put it, countries would choose whether or not to register a term but would be obliged to consult the register; and whether allowing countries to opt out of the system entirely conforms with the “multilateral” description in the mandate

wines and spirits or more? The Joint-Proposal group and some others say there is no mandate to extend the system to other products and to link these talks to two other topics — extending to other products the higher level of protection now given to wines and spirits (“GI extension”) and a proposal to require patent applicants to disclose the origin of genetic resources used in their inventions (“disclosure”). China and Kenya were among countries insisting that the multilateral register must not discriminate in favour of wines and spirits. 

The continued discussion on this last point meant a plea from the chairperson went almost unheard. However, interventions were kept relatively low-key on both sides.

 “In view of past experience, let me remind delegations that the mandate in this forum is for negotiations on the establishment of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits,” Amb.Mwape had said.

 “Despite my having received repeated assurances from all sides that this would be respected, we have still spent considerable time [in the drafting group] talking about whether or not the composite text should be neutral with respect to possible GI extension or not, and I must say that this has not been to my liking.”

The Joint-Proposal group circulated a revision of its proposal, adding a section on special treatment for developing countries, aligning the formatting with the structure of the draft and using its preferred wording from the composite draft. This will soon be available publicly as TN/IP/W/10/Rev.3 (coming soon).

The W/52 group said it is also coordinating to produce a common text, but that this will take some time because of the group’s size and because it wants to prepare texts on GI extension and patent disclosure as well.

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