Geographical indications have been receiving increasing levels of attention recently:

  • The UK has announced a new system for GIs which will come into effect at the end of the Brexit transition period (see our post here);
  • the EU has recently concluded an agreement on the mutual recognition of GIs with China (see more on this below);
  • and on 25th November 2020, the European Commission issued a Communication, Making the most of the EU’s innovative potential – An intellectual property action plan to support the EU’s recovery and resilience (see our blog post here), which includes plans to improve the EU’s Geographical Indications (GIs) system by strengthening and streamlining the food and drink product GI system, and also to consider the establishment of an EU-wide non-agricultural product GI system.

The EU IPO has also just launched a new database of GIs GiView on 25 November 2020 – see more information here.

GIs bring benefits to local economies and cultures and reinforce consumer confidence

Describing GIs as “part of Europe’s cultural heritage” and endorsing their contribution “to the social, environmental and economic sustainability of the rural economy” the Communication reaffirms the importance of GIs to the EU economy:  “In 2017, Agrifood and drink products, whose names are protected by the EU as GIs, represented a sales value of EUR 74.76 billion  within the EU, 7% of total sales in the European food and drink sector. Furthermore, GIs represent 15.5% of total EU agri-food exports, with a higher sales premium for protected product names.”

As the Commission’s Communication points out, GIs are often an important part of a local identity, and can be used to support and thereby retain unique skills as well as attracting tourism and of course contributing to job creation.  GI’s provide consumers with indications of authenticity and give producers better visibility with consumers which, the Communication says “can help them stay competitive and work together in niche markets, and give a boost to less developed regions“.

Read our special report  Trust on a plate: consumer confidence and food safety (the latest edition in our Future of Consumer series) which looks at consumer trust in food products, examining geographical indications systems worldwide, as well as labelling and food crime issues, with contributions from from our extensive global consumer sector network including Italy, Australia, China, Indonesia and the UK.

“Untapped potential” for food and drink GIs in the EU

However, the EU believes that there is still untapped potential and that making protection and enforcement more precise and better identifying the roles of Member States and the Commission in the registration process could improve things.  Building on the results of the EU Food Quality Schemes evaluation  (which has been conducting a consultation and which was due to give its final pronouncements before the end of 2020), the Commission will look at ways to strengthen, modernise, streamline and better enforce GIs for agricultural products, food, wines and spirits.

GIs for non-agricultural products in the EU

GIs for non-agricultural products are also being assessed.  Some Member States have GI protections in place for such goods, such as handicrafts for example, but at EU level there is no uniform mechanism currently for their protection.

The Communication refers to a recent study, Economic aspects of geographical indication protection at EU level for non-agricultural products in the EU (published February 2020), which, the Commission says, shows that a harmonised system for non-agricultural products would be beneficial for the EU economy in this way.  It also refers to another study, the European Parliament’s Geographical indications for non-agricultural products. Cost of non-Europe report, from 2019, which assesses the longer term impact of introducing EU-wide GI protection for non-agricultural products as generating an increase in intra-EU trade of “about 4.9-6.6 % of current intra-EU exports (EUR 37.6- 50 billion). Predictions show that, with a uniform system, regional employment could rise by 0.12-0.14% and that 284 000-338 000 new jobs could be created in the EU as a whole“.

The Commission’s Communication concludes that, as part of the overall reform of the GI system, the Commission will consider the feasibility of creating an efficient and transparent EU GI protection system for non-agricultural products. This would also enable the EU to fully benefit from the opportunities offered by the international system of appellations of origin and GIs and, the Commission comments, would give it a better platform from which to promote the recognition of GIs worldwide.

China – Landmark agreement with the EU on GIs and New protection regulation for foreign GIs in China in sight

China is a market of 1.4 billion consumers and has become the third largest destination for EU agri–food products, reaching 14.5 billion euros in 2019.

On 14 September 2020, China and the European Union signed what the EU press release termed as a “landmark” agreement to protect specific European GIs in China and Chinese GIs in the European Union “against usurpation and imitation”.

This is the first bilateral agreement in relation to Geographical Indications that China ever entered. China and the EU have agreed to give admission and protection to 550 GIs (275 each), including:

  • EU GIs: Cava, Champagne, Feta, Irish whiskey, Münchener Bier, Ouzo, Polska Wódka, Porto, Prosciutto di Parma and Queso Manchego; and
  • China GIs: Pixian Dou Ban (Pixian Bean Paste), Anji Bai Cha (Anji White Tea), Panjin Da Mi (Panjin rice) and Anqiu Da Jiang (Anqiu Ginger).

200 GIs, 100 for each of China and the EU, will be admitted and protected immediately after the agreement comes into force, which is expected to be early 2021, while the remaining 350 GIs (175 each), will be included in the system within 4 years from the agreement’s entry into force. These GIs will have to follow the same approval procedure as the initial 100 (ie assessment and publication for comments).

In China, only the state designated GI protection institutions, industry associations or enterprises can apply for GI protection for products. Once a GI is approved, all the market players in the region whose products reach the standards will be protected.

China has its own GI system, providing protection in three ways:

  • The geographical indications of agricultural products are approved and registered by the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The National Intellectual Property Administration is responsible for the approval and registration of geographical indications as collective trademarks and certification trademarks.
  • The State Administration of Market Regulation assesses and approves the geographical indication products.

Protected GI products in China include:

  • planted or farmed products from a particular region, and
  • all raw materials from a region or part of the raw materials from other region, and produced or processed in the region  in accordance with special processes.

China and the EU began cooperation on GI protection in 2006. In 2012, there were 10 GI names on both sides that were mutually protected. China is now in the process of enacting its new Geographical Indication Protection Regulation. The draft of the regulation was published for discussion in September of 2020. The new draft allows a foreign applicant, who has obtained the protection of geographical indications in his country or region, to apply to the State Intellectual Property Administration for GI protection.

In 2019, the EU signed the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement which also contained provisions for the protection of GIs (see our post here) and the earlier trade deal with Canada (CETA) also included GI protections – see here.


Key contacts and authors

Rachel Montagnon
Rachel Montagnon
Professional Support Consultant, IP, London
+44 20 7466 2217
Joel Smith
Joel Smith
Partner, IP, London
+44 20 7466 2331
Cathy Liu
Cathy Liu
Partner, HSF Kewei, China
+86 21 2322 2158
Pietro Pouche
Pietro Pouche
Of Counsel, IP, Milan
+39 02 3602 1394
Cici Wang
Cici Wang
Associate, HSF Kewei, China
+86 139 1817 9179
Sara Balice
Sara Balice
Senior associate, IP, Milan
+39 02 3602 1403
Giulia Maienza
Giulia Maienza
Associate, IP, Milan
+39 02 3602 1396
Julie Chiu
Julie Chiu
Senior Associate (Australia), London
+44 20 7466 2658