MEPs demand geographical protection for artisanal products

Scotch whiskey is protected by an EU geographical indication. [Dominic Lockyer/Flickr]

A majority of MEPs has asked the Commission to extend the European system of geographical indications to artisanal products to Bohemian Crystal. This protection currently only exists for food products. EURACTIV France reports

The European Parliament on Tuesday (6 October) adopted a non-binding resolution by 608 votes to 43, calling on the Commission to expand the EU-wide system of geographical protection to non-food products, like Scottish tartan and Laguiole knives.

>>Read: French concerns over geographical indications will hamper TTIP talks

Geographical indications (GIs) identify food products whose qualities are recognised as unique to their particular country, region or town of origin.

Europe has no shortage of examples: brie de Meaux in France, Parma ham in Italy and rose butter in Luxembourg all enjoy recognition and protection at European Union level.

A fragmented system

While food products are covered by the European GI system, regional artisanal products do not benefit from the same protection.

As a result, any artisan that wants to have their products protected has to go through the process in each individual member state. And only 15 of the 28 EU countries have legislation to protect products of a particular geographical origin.

“It is common sense that when you buy a glass of champagne or a Cumberland Sausage you expect it to come from the region the name implies. However, this is not the case for non-agricultural products,” said Virginie Rozière, a French S&D group MEP and author of the report.

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“A European system of protection of geographic indication for non-agricultural products would […] protect manufacturers against unfair competition and help to support traditional skills and quality workmanship,” she added.

Around 800 products would be included in the scheme as it was rolled out, but that number could quickly grow, according to the European Parliament.

Preparatory work

V?ra Jourová, the European Commissioner for Consumers, said such a system would be “a big step forward” for a sector that employs “four million people, directly and indirectly”.

But she added that the issue should be “closely examined” to see whether the benefits outweigh the costs, considering the extra regulatory burden it would imply.

>>Read: EU mulls geographical indications for non-food products

A Commission consultation from 2014 revealed broad support for a geographical protection system for artisanal products, modelled on the one already in place for food products. 

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

According to the European Commission, they can create added value for local communities and encourage rural development.

The Commission estimated 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 Organisation. 

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