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  •  geographicAL indications 
  • ITC’s Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and their Origins (2009, 225 pages) provides hands-on advice to developing country agri-business producer groups, who are considering the registration of Geographical Indications (GIs) for their unique products. The Guide is based on the findings and recommendations of almost 200 surveys and reports, and includes eight detailed case studies on products from developing countries. 

    A GI signals a link not only between a product and its specific place of origin, but also with its unique production methods and distinguishing qualities. A GI is thus a differentiator, often a key to higher and more stable export earnings. Yet, until now, very little consolidated information was available about these unique forms of intellectual and cultural property and their potential to provide a sustainable means of competitiveness even for remote regions of developing countries. ITC’s Guide now fills that gap.    

     The Guide explores the development potential for countries wishing to use GIs, outlines the elements of a successful GI strategy, and examines the different mechanisms available for protecting and fostering new GI products and services. As such it will primarily appeal to audiences of policymakers, producer groups, and development agencies. It will also interest researchers and academics in the international development, legal, and trade fields, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

    The Guide to Geographical Indications is available free of charge in pdf form in English, French and Spanish. Print copies can be ordered via ITC’s e-Shop.  


    Many GIs, such as Bordeaux wine or Parmigiano cheese, are well-known – but 90% of the 10,000 such indications registered are from OECD countries. Their annual trade value is estimated at USD 50 million. GIs are now increasingly perceived as an opportunity in many other countries that have unique physical and cultural attributes that can be translated into product differentiation. These physical and cultural assets form the basic value-giving characteristics upon which GIs are built. GIs are the embodiment of ‘glocalization’ i.e. products and services participating in global markets and at the same time supportive of local cultures and economies.

    Geographical Indications are an integral form of rural development that can powerfully advance commercial and economic interests while fostering local values such as environmental stewardship, culture and tradition. They often align with emerging trade demands since they tend to have standards for quality, traceability and food safety. GIs possess many of the characteristics of an upmarket brand. They can have an impact on entire supply chains and even other products and services in a region and thereby foster business clustering and rural integration. Their differentiation from commodities can offer a valuable competitive advantage that is difficult to erode.

    It is not, however, all a rosy picture. GIs are not easy to establish. Success on a large scale is often measured in decades and requires patient application and sustained commitment. They can have considerable costs, not just for organizational and institutional structures but also for ongoing operational costs such as marketing and legal enforcement. In some cases, without proper planning and management, developing countries could squander limited resources investing to establish poorly chosen GIs.

    ITC’s aim with the guide is to offer assistance in deciding whether a GI is worth considering and, if the answer is yes, help producers and their organizations with the steps involved.

    Components for GI success 

    Lessons from the case studies and the literature review suggest that, for a GI to be successful, four components are essential:

    1. Strong organizational and institutional structures to maintain, market, and monitor the GI. The core processes of: (i) identifying and fairly demarcating a GI (ii) organizing existing practices and standards and (iii) establishing a plan to protect and market the GI all require building local institutions and management structures with a long-term commitment to participatory methods of cooperation.
    2. Equitable participation among the producers and enterprises in a GI region. Equitable is here defined as the participating residents of a GI region sharing reasonably in not only costs and benefits but also in the control and decisions regarding their public assets.
    3. Strong market partners committed to promote and commercialize over the long term. Many of the GI market successes are the result of mutually beneficial business relations via which consistent market positioning and effective commercialization have led to a long-term market presence.
    4. Effective legal protection including a strong domestic GI system. Carefully chosen protection options will permit effective monitoring and enforcement in relevant markets to reduce the likelihood of fraud that can compromise not only the GI’s reputation but also its legal validity.

    Why GIs need protection

    As it becomes more popular, a GI takes on value just like any familiar brand. For producers, a GI helps to confer uniqueness or differentiation, and can be used to grant a measure of protection to what has essentially evolved to represent a brand name for their product. Besides the value of legal protection, GI status can ostensibly reduce the information problems faced by consumers when product characteristics are not readily evident.

    While imitation may be flattering to some, for many GIs such fraud is costly in terms of their reputation and their income. Since there are often attempts to “free-ride” on their reputations by using the same or similar names, GIs require adequate means of protection. Yet, the implications, or the pros and cons, of different protection approaches are often unclear. Therefore, the requirements, effectiveness and costs must be properly assessed before determining the most appropriate course of protective action.

    Wines and spirits, the most common GIs, are reasonably well protected by special provisions in national systems and international accords. However, for food and other agricultural products, legal protection is less certain and less well understood. Sorting out the main protection options is a key objective of this publication; it purposely focuses on the less well-protected agri-food sectors rather than explicitly covering wines and spirits, though many of the lessons learned are similar.

    Fragmented, overlapping and nebulous systems of protection, combined with the lack of a single or common coherent international approach, or even a registry, make it difficult to secure protection in overseas markets. Of the 167 countries that protect GIs as a form of intellectual property, 111 (including the EU 27) have specific or sui generis systems of GI laws in place. There are 56 countries using a trademark system, rather than or in addition to specific GI protection laws. These countries utilize certification marks, collective marks or trademarks to protect GIs.

    Since protection systems vary from country to country, some of the choices available for GI protection can potentially put a public asset into the exclusive control of just a few private hands. Both of the largest markets for GI products, the EU and the United States, appreciate the validity and purpose of GIs. Yet protection systems have evolved quite differently in these regions, a process reflected in their differing approaches to protection. Publicly oriented or sui generis systems of GI protection can be bureaucratic but tend to conceive of GIs as a public good and thus cover many of the costs associated with securing and enforcing their protection. Privately oriented systems, such as those that rely primarily on trademark law for GI protection, can be more accessible and responsive but the responsibility and costs, especially for detection and enforcement, are borne by the GI itself.

    The protection of GIs requires more than the legal protection of geographic names. For many, there is an interdependent association between the product, its place of origin and its quality. To be effective in the long term, evidence of this must be preserved throughout the supply chain. The issue of GIs must therefore be addressed holistically as complete systems operating together with the business, policy and regulatory regimes that support them.

    Much of the effort behind the development of a GI is in the civil or private sector. Organization, structure, and the management of certification controls and marketing can be largely a private undertaking. The role of government is essentially to provide the legal framework to prevent fraud and deception so that the market for a GI can operate for the benefit of both consumers and the participants in the region of origin. In some cases, more active government participation may be necessary and warranted if there is a ‘public good’ rationale.

    That justifiable rationale for government intervention may exist when a region is unable to develop or protect its unique assets as a public benefit.

    Basis of the GI guide

    To better understand the complex permutations of GIs and to test the hypothesis that GIs typically provide a broad array of benefits, the authors researched and reviewed most of the serious research on the topic – about 200 works. Most of the existing publications have focused on European countries and so a series of eight Case Studies in developing countries were also commissioned especially for this work. They feature GIs at different stages of development in various countries ranging from Guatemalan to Mongolia, from coffee and to wool and alcoholic drinks.

    The main objective is to answer whether or how GIs can indeed be a value proposition for the agri-food sectors in developing countries, and if so, what is necessary in order to have GIs provide the most broad-based and equitable developmental impact. The purpose of the publication is to document lessons learned and good practices. It explores, step by step, the issues to consider when developing or improving GIs and answers many of the most common questions that arise on the topic. The reader is also offered a number of observations and practical insights into the dominant GI systems that operate today.

    Guide Chapters  (see full table of contents in pdf)

    Geographical Indications (GIs) – definitions and overview
    Valuing GIs: their pros and cons
    Global overview of legal protection systems for GIs
    GI protection – different policies and approaches around the world
    Practical aspects – applying for GI protection
    Deciding to undertake a GI – key points to consider
    Frequently asked questions

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