Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 December 2003
Geographical indications (GI's) for foods link a quality or characteristic of a product to its locality of origin. GI's usually represent traditional or artisanal knowledge and techniques, yet they are recognized as a form of intellectual property. A GI may propel a food or beverage product from commodity status (blue cheese) into the high value niche or gourmet market (Roquefort cheese) and, consequently, can have a positive social and economic impact on farmers and rural development. African teas, coffees and other special products might benefit from greater international recognition and protection of GI's. Geographical indications are defined in but receive very limited international protection under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Inellectual Property (TRIPS). Most regulation of GI's in national (e.g., in the Cote d'Ivoire and South Africa) or regional (e.g., the Bangui Agreement and in the E.C.). At the WTO and during the Doha Development Round discussions Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria and South Africa, among other African countries, have argued for the expansion of the TRIPS rules, as have the E.C. and Switzerland. Ausralia, Japan, and the U.S., several countries in Latin America, and others conside GI's as likely protectionist measures and prefer to rely on trademarks. Each African country must determine whether the potential benefits of GI's—including their positive impact on rural development—sufficiently balance the costs of implementing some form of an international system.
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