Geographic Indications: a Key Device for Rural Economies’ Development Threatened by a ‘No Deal’ scenario

Geographic Indications: a Key Device for Rural Economies’ Development Threatened by a ‘No Deal’ scenario

 

by Remy Mevel

Introduction

The European Union (EU) quality schemes are an ensemble of labels allowing it to valorise and protect, through the law, different products for the sake of the linked traditional know-how or socio-geographical heritage.[1]This article focuses on Geographical Indications (GIs), that lean on the geographical heritage of a product (and its production) to protect it against imitations.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement[2]finalised in November 2018,[3]it was agreed that EU quality schemes were set to continue being applied like before Brexit. But since this Agreement has been rejected by Parliament twice, it has become increasingly irrelevant to analyse the future framework of EU GIs management in the United Kingdom. At present, a no deal seems the most likely scenario, and the British Government is preparing for this, as are Member States of the European Union. Meanwhile, the European Commission states that the EU quality schemes, ‘recognised as intellectual property’, are of utmost importance in the framework of EU trade negotiations with third countries.[4]Hence, issues and risks represented by the evolution of the GIs regime must be assessed, as an extremely important matter for rural economy producers and local producers.

  1. EU-wide protection for traditional and local heritages

 The EU GIs dispositions have developed several labels, but they are designed to protect a particularly local or regional heritage and to showcase a product. The protected designation of origin (PDO) label cover the products (wines or agricultural products) which production has been made only and fully in the specified PDO region. The corresponding EU PDO logo, mandatory for all products but wine, gives visibility to the relevant producers.[5]The protected geographical indication (PGI) label can be given to the wines and agricultural products which production is intrinsically linked to a geographic area. A PGI can only be awarded if ‘at least one of the stages of (its) production, processing or preparation takes place in the region’[6]. Furthermore, wines, for instance, can only benefit from a PGI label if they are produced with at least 85% of grapes produced in the corresponding area. The EU PGI logo is mandatorily indicated on the PGI-protected product.[7]

Finally, the protected geographical indication of spirit drinks and aromatised wines label serves as a protection for an alcoholic beverage that holds a ‘reputation or other characteristic (that) is essentially attributable to its geographical origin’.[8]This kind of protection does not make it mandatory for the product to feature the corresponding EU GI logo.

These labels help local producers, who are sometimes depositaries of centuries of geographical prosperity. They allow the EU citizens to easily choose quality products throughout all the EU. European law protects them ‘against imitation and misuse within the EU and in non-EU countries where a specific protection agreement has been signed’.[9]The relevant measures are taken in the Member States by the domestic authorities, making it impossible to unlawfully produce and sell a product which protected name is misused.[10]

2. Deal or No Deal? Without a Withdrawal Agreement, another chapter of uncertainty

The Withdrawal Agreement guaranteed that EU intellectual property rights would be maintained in United Kingdom (UK) and vice versa. It also stated that GIs would be ‘legally protected by the Withdrawal Agreement unless and until a new agreement applying to the stock of geographical indications is concluded’.[11]

The Withdrawal Agreement reached a high level of guaranteed protection, in a situation where the ‘EU-approved geographical indications bearing names of UK origin (eg Welsh Lamb) (would) remain unaffected within the EU and therefore continue to be protected in the EU’.[12]

In a policy paper[13]published in early February 2019, the UK Government put forward rules applying from 29 March 2019 about GIs, in the event of a No Deal Brexit. This would create a specific and own UK GI schemes system, as these rules would ‘mirror the EU schemes and fulfil the UK’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations’.[14]It would be managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and would keep just the same categories as the European system. The products currently protected in the UK by the European system will be, without application, protected within the new UK system.

As for unprotected products, their producers will have to apply for the UK label they are aiming at – and this is valid for the British, European and non-European producers.[15]While the details of the application still have to be clarified, producers who are willing to benefit from a UK GI and in Europe will have twice as much work as before. This is because they will have to apply to the European and the English labels system.

With respect to the European recognition of the English GIs, much uncertainty remains. Even though the UK expects the GI system to continue protecting the UK GIs with or without a Brexit Deal, it acknowledges that ‘if the UK leaves with no deal, it is possible that the EU may not continue to protect UK GI products’.[16]

Under a no deal, all the existing UK products benefiting from an EU label (with the notable exception of the cross-border Irish products) would have to apply, again, to the European Commission services to continue claiming their GI within the European Union. Furthermore, the Government advice solicits application to other kinds of protection, in order to protect producers’ intellectual property over their products.[17]

On the world stage, the UK ‘expects’[18]to see the continuation of UK GIs’ recognition through the free trade agreements (FTAs) the EU has concluded on its behalf with third countries, while working to implement new agreements with ‘global trading partners’.[19]It seems evident that the current GIs’ protection the UK is benefiting from due to the EU FTAs with non-EU countries is directly threatened in case of a No Deal Brexit.

Under this framework, the Government states EU GI-protected producers ‘may need to apply to the relevant UK scheme to secure UK GI status’.[20]The reciprocity principle will apply, underlining again the universal Brexit lex talionisnegotiations logic.

3. The Geographical Indications system’s evolution: a crucial issue for British and European producers and consumers

Today, there are 87 GIs[21]in the United Kingdom. Protecting these very specific products is crucial to the UK history, traditions and rural economy. Collectively, the UK GIs exports are worth £5 billion, which amounts to 25% of the value of all the UK food or drink exports. Scotch whisky, which is a GI itself, represents £4 billion worth of exports per annum.[22]

The UK however is not the only stakeholder in the European GI scheme, as the whole GI system covers 3, 000 products throughout the whole European Union.[23]The exchange allowed by the GI system is profitable both to the producers of the UK and the EU. It also is beneficial for consumers as it aids them in choosing a quality label product which is guaranteed at European level. A no deal would entail the continuation of this protection of consumers’ choices, albeit at a domestic level only.

Yet again, the UK has a much smaller market compared to the European Single Market. Thus, a strong risk of an inability to negotiate exists in that scenario. Ensuring a smooth transition is key for producers and consumers – in the UK and the EU. From the EU’s side, more administrative issues to recognise UK Geographical Indications would hurt UK rural economy, even if it only concerns the time it takes to find a new agreement on the new reciprocal system of recognition for UK products.

 

 

Bibliography

[1]European Commission, Quality schemes explained (2019).

https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/food-safety-and-quality/certification/quality-labels/quality-schemes-explained_fr#aims accessed on 02/02/2019

[2]Hereinafter referred to as Withdrawal Agreement alone or (WA).

[3]European Commission, Fact Sheet. Brexit Negotiations: What is in the Withdrawal Agreement(2018).

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-18-6422_en.htm accessed on 03/02/2019.

[4]European Commission, Quality schemes explained(2019).

https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/food-safety-and-quality/certification/quality-labels/quality-schemes-explained_fr#aims accessed on 02/02/2019.

[5]ibid.

[6]ibid.

[7]ibid.

[8]ibid.

[9]ibid.

[10]ibid.

[11]European Commission, Fact Sheet. Brexit Negotiations: What is in the Withdrawal Agreement(2018).

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-18-6422_en.htm accessed on 03/02/2019.

[12]ibid.

[13]United Kingdom Government (GOV.UK), Protecting food and drink names if there’s no Brexit deal, (2019).https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protecting-food-and-drink-names-if-theres-no-brexit-dealaccessed on 27/02/2019.

[14]ibid.

[15]ibid,

[16]ibid.

[17]ibid.

[18]ibid.

[19]ibd

[20]ibid.

[21]United Kingdom Government (GOV.UK), Protected food name scheme: UK registered products(2014, updated 19/02/2019).

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/protected-food-name-scheme-uk-registered-productsaccessed on 27/02/2019.

[22]Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Geographical Indications. Consultation on establishing UK Geographical Indications (GI) schemes after EU Exit (2018).

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/food/consultation-on-uk-geographical-indicationsscheme/supporting_documents/UK%20GI%20scheme%20consultation%20document.pdfaccessed on 27/02/2019

[23]European Commission, Fact Sheet. Brexit Negotiations: What is in the Withdrawal Agreement (2018). http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-18-6422_en.htmaccessed on 03/02/2019