Over the past month, several Indian products such as the white onion from Maharashtra and the chilly from Kerala have received geographical indication (GI) tags. These GI tags help these products be recognised for trade at a global level and brings about economic prosperity for the manufacturers and producers based in that region.
GI tags identify agricultural, natural or manufactured goods produced, processed or prepared in a specific geographical terrain due to which the product has a special quality or a novel reputation. First identified for a period of ten years, the GI tag can later be renewed after the initial period ends.
Even though a registered entity-- which is like a patent-- a GI tag is very different from a trademark. While a trademark is limited to a specific enterprise, GI tags are given to products that only originates from a particular location and has characteristics that represent the geographical properties of that location.
What Is A Geographical Indication Tag?
Acting as an intellectual property right, a geographical indication tag falls under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement that were conceived in the Urugay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) between 1989 and 1990. TRIPS is governed by the World Trade Organisation, it aims to set a minimum standard of goods for regulation of different types of intellectual property rights that can be compared with other WTO nations.
GI tags were identified as intellectual property rights way back in 1883 at the Paris Convention followed by a further elaborate provision in the 1958 Lisbon Agreement on the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their Registration.
Although initiated to ensure that wines and cheese from specific regions in France and Switzerland were acknowledged for their skill and mastery, GI tags are not limited to only food or agricultural produce. Handicrafts, specially created objects, anything requiring meticulous skill to create whose craft is only found in a specific area also gets awarded the GI tag. For instance, Maharashtra and Karnataka enjoy the GI status for Kolhapuri chappals, Uttar Pradesh has been awarded the GI tag for Banarasi sarees as well as Lucknowi Chikan craft.
What Is The Advantage Of Obtaining A GI Tag?
With a GI tag, the area thus identified becomes synonymous to the product that has become renowned due to its uniqueness in style or taste. Sparkling wine, well recognised as Champagne across the world is a hotly debated topic for GI tags. While the European Union contends that the word champagne only be limited to the sparkling wine being produced by companies present in the Champagne region of France, the US feels that all kinds of sparkling wine be demarcated as Champagne.
The region after which the wine is named has the GI tag for it in place. Along with Champagne in France, in 2019, champagne became the first foreign product to get the GI tag in Cambodia.
As it is an intellectual property, a GI tag cannot be infringed. If any producer from the area that has received a GI tag for a given product feels that another is infringing or misusing their GI tag, they can approach a court of law for settling the issue.
In India, the origin of the sweet Roshagulla, spelled differently across states, sparked a debate between the sweet's loyalists in West Bengal and Odisha. The Bengali Banglar Rasogolla was awarded GI status in 2017-18 while the Odia version Odisha Rasagola got its GI tag in 2019-2020.
Currently, Madhya Pradesh is at loggerheads with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority to share the GI tag for production of Basmati rice. APEDA helped seven states to get the GI tag for the same and does not want to share the benefits of the tag with Madhya Pradesh.
The question of "Who owns Basmati?" is not just within the country. A standoff between India and Pakistan began when India filed a claim in the EU seeking sole ownership of Basmati in 2020. This would have provided India with a monopoly over Basmati rice markets but Pakistan filed a counter-petition against the move. In December, Nepal joined Pakistan in opposing India's application arguing that Basmati is grown and consumed traditionally in their country.
A GI tag is strongly connected to socio-economic development of rural areas as well as is a tool to preserve traditional knowledge. GI tags also enhance and instill community bonding. A GI tag is not only limited to the applicant but also allows fellow members of the community using the same skill, craft, or knowledge of produce to avail the benefits of the tag.
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Along with preservation of knowledge, GI tags are also useful in sustainable ways to protect the deteriorating nature of the environment. As the produce requires raw materials and natural resources, people in these areas are more mindful of not depleting their resources as they eventually help in further production and economic prosperity.
What Products Have GI Tags In India?
The tea produced in the gardens and valleys of hilly Darjeeling in West Bengal was the first produce to be awarded the GI tag in India in 2003. India which is a member of the World Trade Organisation enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 which eventually was enforced and came into effect in September 2003.
An entity looking to register their product to avail the GI tag has to apply to the Geographical Indications Registry, part of the Intellectual Property Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, Ministry of Commerce. Highlighting why the product requires the GI tag, the applicant will have to specify the unique characteristics as well as mark the area of the GI tag.
After a thorough inspection and scrutiny, the application is notified in the GI registry Journal. If any entity wishes to oppose this move, they can do so. Once the officers feel that the application fulfils all requirements, a GI tag of 10 years is registered for the product.
Between 2003 and May 2021, India has awarded GI tags to over 370 products. In the last month or so, the white onion and Wada Kolam rice from Maharashtra, Kuttiattoor mango and Edayur chilli from Kerala, seven indigenous products from Uttarakhand and Balaghat's Chinnor rice from Madhya Pradesh are some of the products that received the GI tag.
Famous products such as Lucknowi chikan art, Banarsi sarees, kanchipuram sarees, Thanjavur dolls, Mizo chilly, Chanderi Sarees, Solapur chaddar, Nashik grapes, Mysore Sandal soap, Madhubani Paintings, Alleppey Coir, 103 Kutch Embroidery, Kashmiri Pashmina, Naga Mircha are GI tag products.
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