India must popularise GI for farm products

N.Lalitha | Updated on August 12, 2021

Geographical indication tag will help boost farm exports, especially to the EU with whom talks for a trade pact are going on

In May 2021, India and the European Union (EU) announced their decision to resume negotiations on a comprehensive trade agreement. Negotiations would also commence on two of the key agreements, namely, investment protection and geographical indications (GIs). Europe is the citadel of GIs and focuses mainly on agricultural GIs like wine, cheese, oils and meat products.

According to Huysmans (2020), of the 1,400 GIs that EU has, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal own 70-80 per cent of all food and wine GIs. In all, the trade agreements that the EU had negotiated so far, GIs have a prime place and inadequate protection of major GIs have led to slowing down of further negotiations and agreements.

In the proposed negotiations with India, the EU would bargain for registration and adequate protection for its GIs in India. What does this mean for GI producers in India?

As EU’s focus is only on agricultural products, India may not be able to seek registration for its non-agricultural products immediately. It is not clear whether the EU would seek the normal route of GI registration in India or provide a list of products that should be recognised by India. Whichever route the EU adopts, India in return should seek a similar treatment for its products.

Out of the 370 GI registered products of India there are 111 agricultural products. While some of the products are doing well commercially, others have limited commercial but more cultural and heritage value.

Unlike in the domestic market, where the GI tag is yet to get established as a marketing tool, in the event of EU registration of Indian GI products, the different stakeholders should aim to launch a market for Indian GI products using the GI tag. At present, very few products like basmati rice, tea from different parts of India, select horticultural products and spices are routinely exported. But majority of the other GI products of India are sold within the region or within the country.

Focus areas

Assuming that the potential exportable products have been identified, the following aspects need immediate attention: ‘surplus’ available for exports; farmer ‘collectives’; ‘standards’ of production; and ‘traceability’ of the product. Estimating the surplus available for exports for three consecutive seasons at least is essential. This is because in a few GI products, both the area under cultivation and the number of farmers have dwindled over the years.

To estimate the surplus, all the farmers within the GI designated area and farm producer collectives need to be identified. These collectives can provide the estimate of production and surplus available for exports. These collectives, along with the stakeholders involved in the value chain, can then be recognised as authorised users (AUs), which will automatically confer AU status for the individual farmers.

AU status informs the consumer that the product is produced by the registered GI producer within the GI area and prevents free riding by non-GI producers.

The other advantage is buyers from the EU would find it easier to deal with the collectives than a number of individual producers.

The second aspect is with reference to the standards of production. These standards are not only the parameters that define the quality but also aspects like labour and environment. The EU is home for ‘responsible consumerism’. Implicitly, the EU consumers not only prefer authentic regional GI products as against the homogenised products, but also look for labels indicating certifications to ascertain that the product has been produced in a sustainable manner following decent labour principles and also pay a premium price for such certified regional products.

Adoption of these practices necessitates documentation and being part of the collectives that help the farmers to adopt and document such practices.

The third important aspect is about traceability, to inform the consumers by whom, where, and when the product was produced along with adherence to the maximum residue limits which is available as barcode on the package of the product. As substantial portions of a product could come from non-GI segment, the GI producers will have to compete in the international market based on quality rather than on price.

EU consumers recognise the products by GI label. Though there is a label for the Indian GI products, it is still not being used for lack of clarity regarding who can use the label, which needs to be sorted out urgently. The appropriate authority should popularise the label abroad and in the domestic market, on the lines of ‘Swatch Bharat Abhiyan’, that GI stands for uniqueness and quality. Such recognition of GI products would lead to consumers patronising them and would attract more area and farmers to cultivate.

There are a few progressive farmers and farmer collectives which are working in the GI region, producing and exporting the products. The government should take the help of such farmers and associations to motivate the rest of the farmers to enter in the export markets. GI is a community right and GI products are economic assets of a region. If used appropriately they would help to double the farm income and achieve a few of the sustainable development goals.

The farmer community is a heterogeneous group, hence government intervention is necessary to benefit from the EU-India GI agreement, both in the domestic and export markets.

The writer is Professor, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad

Published on August 12, 2021

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