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EU mulls geographical indications for non-food products

The European Commission is considering legislation protecting the geographical origin of non-agricultural products, such as Murano glass and Scottish tartans.

The names of a number of European agricultural products, such as Parma ham or Bordeaux wine, are protected by EU law.

The European Commission is now considering whether to extend geographical indications (GIs) to non-agricultural products, launching a publication consultation, or so-called ‘green paper’, on the matter this week (15 July).

The laws would be aimed at protecting Europe’s heritage and traditional practices, such as certain pottery, marble-work, clothes or musical instruments.

“The European Union is rich in products based on traditional knowledge and production methods, which are often rooted in the cultural and social heritage of a particular geographical location, from Bohemian crystal and Scottish tartans to Carrara marble to Tapisserie d’Aubusson,” said Michel Barnier, the commissioner for the internal market and services.

There are currently legislative systems protecting the geographical origin of non-agricultural products in 14 EU countries. The laws may govern a specific craft, such as ceramics or pottery, a certain product, for example knives from Solingen in Germany, or be national or regional GI laws.

Products are also covered by laws on trademarks, unfair competition or consumer deception in all member states of the European Union.

GIs in trade

The European Union and the United States are currently conducting negotiations for a free-trade agreement, with GIs being one of the sticking points.

US officials have opposed the EU’s position on GIs, fearing that domestic producers will not be able to sell cheese using common names such Camembert cheese.

Background

The EU currently offers geographical indication protection for agricultural products. Examples include Parma ham, Bordeaux wine,Roquefort cheese and Scotch whisky.

The European Commission says that they can create added value for local communities and encourage rural development.

The Commission estimates that the sales value of EU GIs amounted to €54.3 billion in 2011. They amounted to some €11.5 billion of EU export sales in the same year, or about 15% of food and drink exports.

The EU is bound by rules on protecting GIs under trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), which applies to all 159 members of the World Trade Organization.

Further Reading