Protection of GIs will spur growth

Protection of GIs will spur growth

The benefits of GI registration are  realised only when these products are effectively marketed.

Recent slowdown in India’s exports possibly calls for a re-examination of policies essential to propel India’s foreign trade. One such policy is the recognition of Geographical Indications (GIs).

What is currently in debate is the ‘unequal treatment’ meted out to developing countries; as a result they are unable to capitalize their true potential. GIs are a type of industrial property that identifies a good as originating from a particular place, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of the good are essentially attributable to its geographical origin. 

Much like trademarks, the economic rationale of GI is based on the ‘information asymmetry’ between buyers and sellers and role of reputation, conveyed through distinctive signs, in tackling such asymmetry.

Thus GI acts as a signaling device helping the producers to differentiate their products from competing products in the market and enable them to build a reputation and goodwill, which often fetch a premium price.

For instance, champagne originated from a place in France and has been recognized as a product whose reputation for quality or authenticity is intimately linked to its geographical origin. It has not only emerged a major product in its export basket but also helps in promotion of tourism and cultural heritage.

Emphasise equality

Such examples are aplenty in India such as Kanjeevaram silk sarees, Pochampali Ikat which can very well contribute to its exports and popularity. What needs to be reemphasised and negotiated is to provide protection and equal treatment to developing countries like India whereby they can contribute to foreign exchange as well as protect its exclusiveness, heritage and traditional skills of making such products.

The issue has gathered momentum with the recognition of the TRIPS on GIs as a form of IPR. This adequately enhanced the marketability of these products, and demonstrated that GIs have great potential to play a role in trade between countries.

This further increased the commercial significance of GIs which were not aware to many developing countries like India. It is at the same time not to say that GIs were insignificant in trade earlier. Quite to the contrary, the immense revenue potential of GIs necessitated their cross-border protection and thus was included in the ambit of the TRIPS Agreement.

Article 22 of the Agreement which forms the centrality of GI protection provides for a general level of cross-border protection of GIs in the course of trade, which is extended to India ad other developing countries. However what distinguishes developed countries from India is a special provision.

This special provision was made under Article 23 of the TRIPs Agreement for protection of GIs in the form of wines and spirits. The major demeanours of this kind of protection were the European countries with their very long tradition in making of wines and spirits. This special treatment to wines and spirits appears to be developed country-centric.

Developing countries, including India, have raised this issue in the on-going Doha Round and in the recent meetings at the WTO. They seek the same higher level of protection for all GIs as was given under Article 23 for wines and spirits.

Many handicraft products such as Kanjeevaram silk sarees, Pochampali Ikat, Chanderifabrics, Madhubani paintings, Mysore Jasmine, Bidri metalworks, Kotpad Handlooms, etc. have been registered as GIs in India.

Many food products and agricultural products also registered. In fact, six foreign products have also been registered as GIs in India. Today, more than 170 Indian products have been recognized as GIs in India. Evidently, the potential is immense. 

It needs to be reiterated that the benefits of the registration of product as GI is actually realized only when these products are effectively marketed and protected against illegal copying.

Effective marketing and protection requires quality assurance, brand creation, post-sale consumer feedback and support etc., There is a direct link between the cultural diversity that exists in India with its varied peoples, traditions and flavours on the one hand and the legal protection as GIs that the products of cultural activity can have on the other.

There is also a link to local communities, in towns and villages, which possess traditional knowledge of making these products, which in themselves, many a time, are part of their traditional cultural expressions. 

Thus, legal protection to GIs also extends to protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression contained in the products as well. In doing so, not only are livelihoods protected but also possibilities of employment generation are encouraged. In fact, owing to the premium prices that many GIs command today, there is possibility of preserving many traditional skills.

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