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EU moves WTO to protect basmati, Darjeeling tea

M.R. Subramani

CHENNAI, June 27

IN a move that should benefit basmati rice and Darjeeling tea, the European Union (EU) has launched an initiative in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to protect products with unique geographical indications.

The EU presented two communications on geographical indications to the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP) Council of WTO in Geneva this week. The initiative was co-sponsored by all the 15 member-states, along with more than a dozen other countries, many of them from the developing world, including India.

Unveiling the proposals, the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr Pascal Lamy, said it was "an opportunity for the EU and developing countries to work hand-in-hand at the WTO in protecting their high-quality agricultural produce and cultural heritage".

The EU's first communication proposes the establishment of a multilateral register to guarantee the origin of these high-quality products, which would be completed by 2003. Currently, producers register their geographical indication in each and every country in the world where they market their products, which is a lengthy and costly process. This is the case even for European Union producers wishing to market their products outside the union.

It is this requirement that has helped companies such as RiceTec Inc of the US to get patent for basmati rice lines from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The second communication seeks to extend this protection to other products that are just as deserving of such recognition. The current proposal is to extend protection to agri-food products, but the EU is open to future incorporation of other products, such as textiles.

The EU proposals are in line with the commitments it made during the Doha Ministerial Round of WTO in return for its demand that it be allowed to continue with domestic support measures for the agriculture sector. Even before the Doha round, the EU made it clear it was ready to support any proposal by India.

The EU said in a statement that its proposals were to protect many traditional, high-quality products that were specific to certain regions of the world. Indian saris, Turkish carpets, Jasmin rice (Thailand), Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (Italy), Jamon de Huelva (Spanish ham), art paper (China), and Limoges porcelain, besides Darjeeling tea and basmati rice were just a few examples of the products that could eventually benefit from enhanced protection. Geographical indications could also be used, in certain instances, for products that incorporated traditional knowledge such as Indian neem, it said.

The other co-sponsors for the EU proposals were Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Nigeria, Kenya, Cuba, Thailand, Bulgaria, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Moldova.

As regards basmati rice, its exports during 2001-02 fiscal were 8.48 lakh tonnes fetching $475.99 million (Rs 2,141 crore) against 6.65 lakh tonnes valued at $395 million (Rs 1,839 crore). Currently, premium basmati is quoted at $680-705 a tonne f.o.b in the global market, while brown basmati commands $565-585.

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