The European Union (EU) is to launch a bold initiative to improve the protection of geographical indications, which are often associated with high-quality and cultural heritage products the world over.

The initiative will involve presenting two communications on geographical indications to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council in Geneva on 25-26 June. It is co-sponsored by the EU along with more than a dozen other countries, many of them from the developing world.

Unveiling the proposals, EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "This is an opportunity for the EU and developing countries to work hand-in-hand at the WTO in protecting their high-quality agricultural produce and cultural heritage, which we both attach so much importance to."

Many products have special added value because they have unique associations with their geographical origin. The EU's first communication proposes the establishment of a multilateral register to guarantee the origin of these high-quality products, which would be completed by 2003. At the moment, producers must register their geographical indication in each and every country in the world where they market their products, which is a lengthy and costly process. This is the case even for EU producers wishing to market their products outside the EU.

The TRIPS Agreement already provides enhanced protection for wines and spirits belonging to particular regions of the world. The second communication seeks to extend this protection to other products that are just as deserving of such recognition. The current proposal is to extend protection to agri-food products, but the EU is open to a future incorporation of other products, such as textiles. This would protect many traditional, high-quality products that are specific to certain regions of the world. Indian saris, Turkish carpets, Darjeeling tea (India), Jasmin rice (Thailand), Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (Italy), Jamon de Huelva (Spanish ham), art paper (China), and Limoges porcelain are just a few examples of the products that could eventually benefit from enhanced protection. Geographical indications could also be used, in certain instances, for products that incorporate traditional knowledge, such as Indian neem.

The initiative will benefit producers from both the developed and the developing world. Geographical indications can be used by any producer and cannot be removed from that territory. The initiative would also reduce current registration and litigation costs. The extra protection would increase the income and profits obtainable from well-known geographical indications, which could promote the development of rural communities and encourage quality agriculture and crafts. The system would also eliminate confusion for the consumer and give them the choice between whether they wish to pay more for genuine geographical indications.

The countries co-sponsoring the communications include: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Nigeria, Kenya, Cuba, Thailand, Bulgaria, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Moldova.

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http://europa.eu.int/comm/trade/index_en.htm