Terroir and the curious path to geographic indication. 

This week I was honored and pleased to participate in the “Sub-regional workshop on geographical indications/ origin-linked products in Kingston, Jamaica. The event was coordinated by various governmental and international trade organizations including: WIPO, CEDA, EU-Caricom, IDB and JIPO.

A geographic indicator (GI) is a specific product name that has trademark-like protection and exclusivity as long as the product characteristics, or reputation is due to its place of origin. This idea of place has great importance and is referred to as “terroir” in Europe. A clear and scientific connection between product and place of origin and its connection to culture, tradition, heritage and processes are all linked to this interesting concept in international trade and IP law.

This legal issue has great commercial relevance since the market for GIs is estimated at more than $50 billion. Some of the most popular GIs include Champagne, Port (the oldest GI), Roquefort, Tequila, and Darjeeling.

The aim of the workshop was to build capacities in the Caribbean for the registration of GIs in the area, connect stakeholders and raise awareness.

Registering a GI is a three step process:

1. Form a producer group/ association, e.g. Co-op farmers from Belize were present to discuss efforts to develop a GI for cocoa from the Toledo region (terroir) in that country.

2. Develop a scientific product specification with verified protocols and standards. Elements may include: production methods, livestock regimes, plant varieties, traditional practices. The terroir must be described in detail. Boundaries and unique territorial aspects should be included, e.g some coffee must be grown at certain elevations and with certain soil conditions. The link between product and terroir must be scientifically established to establish uniqueness and source origin.

3.  Control production to guarantee customers of origin and authenticity.

Once these are all established a producer group may reap the benefits of a GI system and enjoy market exclusivity and higher margins for their unique products. Consumers can enjoy consuming the product knowing that the product is sustainably sourced from a legitimate producer group with strong historical and cultural connections to the terroir.

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