South Africa’s ‘rooibos’ dried leaves and stems, used to produce the eponymous herbal-infused tea, have become the first African food to receive the status of geographical indication (GIs) in the European Union.
On Monday (31 May), the European Commission approved the registration of Rooibos/Red Bush in the EU’s quality scheme, granting the South African product the protected designation of origin (PDO).
Rooibos thus beat two other African products also aiming for GI status in the EU – Cameroon’s Penja pepper and Morocco’s Argan oil.
The application was filed in August 2018 by the South African Rooibos Council (SARC), an industry organisation that gathers those involved in processing, packing, branding and exporting rooibos tea and representing 80% of the volume and value of the annual production and sales of rooibos.
Tea lovers from all across the world have come to value the fruity and sweet taste of rooibos tea, whose leaves are still today dried and fermented in the region of production, the Western Cape province and the Northern Cape province.
GIs are designed to protect the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin as well as to the know-how embedded in the region.
European citizens can find these products on their supermarket shelves dedicated to specific labels for local food specialities such as PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication).
These product names are included in the EU system of intellectual property rights, legally protecting them against imitation and misuse.
A recent European Commission study that collected economic data from 3,207 GI protected products from across the EU found that GIs represent a sales value of €74.76 billion.
GIs represent a success story that Europe wants to promote and export globally and particularly in Africa, playing a key role in improving agriculture relations between the two continents ahead of the sixth meeting with the African Union in 2021.
The EU will support concrete actions for the development of intellectual property when it comes to African foodstuffs, including the direct registration as a GI in the EU of Penja pepper from Cameroon, which would be the first sub-Saharan GI approved in the EU and the first African one not originating in South Africa.
The African Union (AU) has requested the support of UN food agency FAO to establish a continental strategy for GIs, a call that was picked up by other global institutions including the European Commission, the French Agency for Development (AFD) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
The strategy for GIs in Africa was finally endorsed in October 2017, receiving the immediate support of the EU which considers GIs as part of the intellectual property rights protocol of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a major AU flagship project to which the EU has committed to providing full support.
The Commission has recently announced an important revision of the legislative framework for GIs for all agricultural sectors, with the exception of wines and spirits, which will maintain their current specificities.
The Commission’s new attempt to strengthen, modernise, streamline and better enforce GIs for agri-food products is part of a broader intellectual property (IP) action plan, intended to support the EU’s recovery and resilience.
But this revision is also expected to boost GIs’ potential in contributing to the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]