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What’s in a Name? Internationalisation of GI Regulation and its Effects on EU and US Policies

European Union
Globalisation
Institutions
USA
WTO
International
Trade
Gerry Alons
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Gerry Alons
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

Abstract

Geographical Indications (GI’s)have been a long term source of international controversy impacting on food and agricultural policy and trade. GI’s are signs used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. It goes without saying that agricultural producers of such products – think of Champagne, Roquefort or Parma ham – are interested in having a protected and exclusive right to use such product names. Consumers, in turn, have an interest in being correctly informed on the geographical origin of a product, particularly when a higher quality is ascribed to the product on the basis of this origin. In the EU and the US, intellectual property rights with respect to GI’s are governed by two very different systems of law based on different bodies of beliefs. While the EU has sui generis regulations for GI’s, in the US GI’s are protected on the basis of more general Trademark law. This has repeatedly brought the two trade powers in conflict during negotiations in WTO, WIPO and, more recently, in the negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. While the US is relatively uncomfortable with the concept of GI in itself and seeks to prevent international agreements from resulting in increasing burdens to protect GI’s, the EU strives for compulsory protection at a high level through WTO negotiations. Internationalisation of protection of GI’s has been limited for a long time, based on multilateral treaties with merely a small membership. The WTO TRIPS agreement reached in 1994, however, accomplished a breakthrough; because the regulations providing comprehensive protection for GI’s laid down in this agreement were binding for all WTO member states. This agreement also provided for a ‘built-in-agenda’ that was taken up in the Doha round, focusing on developing a GI register for wines and the potential extension of the higher degree of protection for wine and spirits (as laid down in the TRIPS agreement) to other GI products. After explaining the differences in legal treatment and protection of GI’s in the EU and the US, this paper will seek to answer two questions: 1. To what extent and how have the EU and the US been able to ‘internationalise’ their preferred method in dealing with GI’s through international negotiations and agreements, particularly in the WTO and TRIPS Council? 2. How have the norms and regulations arrived at in these international agreements consecutively resulted in adaptations in EU and US GI regulations in order to comply with the international rules, potentially in unforeseen ways instigated by dispute settlement procedures? In this way, the paper seeks to investigate the repeated interaction between national regulations on GI’s and the forming and further development of international regulation on GI’s in international organizations, showing how states on the one hand shape international regimes, but are on the other hand constrained by them.