Institutional aspects: geographical indications, labelling and certification

As for other types of specific quality, such as those connected with organic farming or fair trade, consumers must be able to recognize the specific nature of the product through information, designation or labelling. In local markets, consumer confidence may be based on the short distance between producers and consumers. However, as the distance between the places of production and consumption widens, a certified and monitored information system is needed in order to inform consumers and guarantee that the product meets certain specifications.

By referring to the production or processing zone, geographical indications allow consumers to make the link between the features of a product and its geographical origin, thus creating added value.

International definition of geographical indication

Geographical indications (GIs) are place or country names that identify the origin, quality, reputation or other characteristics of products, as defined by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) (article 22.1) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In this view, quality becomes a legal criterion, allowing a product to be distinguished as a result of its geographical origin. Reputation is closely linked to the history of the product and is based on its distinctive character and the consumer’s perception of it. Characteristics other than quality and reputation can also contribute to specific quality, in particular through natural and human factors (terroir). The link between the geographical area and one or more elements in the product definitionmake it possible to delimit the geographical area concerned.  For more detailed information, see WIPO Standing Committee Document SCT/10/4.

Protection of GIs

Because of their specific quality and reputation, these products of origin-linked quality are subject to counterfeiting and their reputable names can be used illegally to market other products. In such cases it is therefore necessary to recognize the specific quality linked to geographical origin and protect the name associated with it.

The TRIPS Agreement requires that WTO members provide legal means of preventing the misleading use of GIs, including cases where the origin indicated on a product is other than its true place of origin, or where the use of a GI in some way constitutes an act of unfair competition. Countries can meet these obligations either through existing legislation on intellectual property (collective or certification trademarks if appropriate), consumer protection or competition, or by enacting legislation dedicated to the specific protection of GIs and appellations of origin (AOs). An appellation of origin is defined in the Lisbon agreement and is a particular kind of GI used to identify products whose quality or characteristics are due exclusively or essentially to the geographical environment, including natural and human factors. For more information, see Lisbon agreement

Certification

From the consumer’s point of view, it is essential to ensure that information on the product origin is provided and that the product specifications are met. Labelling and certification systems may differ among countries or regions, depending on objectives, types of market, and economic, social and cultural contexts.

In the case of export markets, certification should be carried out by an independent certification body that is recognized in the export market. In the case of domestic markets, there are various options:

  • self-monitoring by a local group of stakeholders (producers, local authorities, traders etc.);
  • monitoring by national authorities of all mentions, avoiding possible conflicts of interest;
  • participatory guarantee systems based on the principle of social control and trust of producers;
  • a fully fledged independent certification system, with certification bodies accredited by national authorities.

The choice of system requires a cost-benefit analysis and an assessment of existing institutional capacity within the country. In all cases, a minimum internal control system by the group of producers is important in order to ensure that the product meets specifications and to facilitate monitoring where necessary.