Tuesday 22 July 2014

Afro Leo

Southern Africa GI adoption a step closer as Rooibos wins GI protection in Europe

GI protection not a "cup of tea"
Reports that Rooibos, the famed medicinal plant from the Cedarburg region in South Africa, is on the cusp of receiving its long awaited GI protection in Europe is one highlight of the newly "initialled" Economic Partnership Agreement between SADC states and Europe.

Afro-IP learnt from Rooibos Limited's communications officer, Gerda De Wet, that they are "glad that is has come to this now". Rooibos has of course been struggling for over 20 years to secure protection against for the name. "At one point, we could not even export the tea to the US under the name "rooibos", we had to call it "red bush"" said Ms De Wet. That was surely a travesty.

Since the dispute in the States, settled in favour of South African interests, the Rooibos product has fought battles in Europe and specifically France (ironically known for its protection of the Champagne GI). The furore induced fellow blogger Jeremy Phillips to urge African nations to take stock of their national assets under the GI system, in this post here. Rightly so.

Getting GI protection is not that simple especially if there is no dedicated reciprocal protection. This is illustrated by a Mining Weekly report published a few moments ago on the progress of the SADC EPA indicating that the quest for local  GI protection was wrapped up in a complicated EPA negotiation that had been constipated since 2007.

"South Africa’s main concession in the EPA negotiations, meanwhile, related to an agreement to negotiate a protocol on geographic indications (GIs), which are place names used to identify products, such as Champagne, Feta, or Roquefort."

 "Carrim said it was the GIs concession that had eventually unblocked the negotiations... "

Professor Jeanine Marnewick, head of the Oxidative Stress Research Centre at CPUT, who has conducted extensive research into some of the medicinal benefits of Rooibos, explains that clinical trials have shown Rooibos to have considerable preventative qualities for heart disease (see publication here, for example) and that its affect on helping to prevent some cancers, such as skin and liver cancer has been positive.  

WIPO explains that between 1997 and 2007 demand for Rooibos increased 15 fold and be early 2011 Rooibos was experiencing an annual growth rate ot a healthy 6%. This, despite the fact that the Rooibos Council was apparently recently disbanded for lack of funding.

News of the GI may help unite the Council again because it effectively provides free protection in Europe albeit that there is a constant need for enforcement and vigilance which attracts costs. Putting a genie back in a bottle is, after all, no easy task.

The EPA still has to endure a "legal scrubbing process" before parliamentary approval and ratification. This process is expected to take place over the next 18 months according to Mining Weekly.

The journey to GI recognition both locally and elsewhere through GI systems has potential benefit to developing communities but arguably considerable benefit too, to the many more advanced brands and GIs already recognised in Europe. This article commissioned by the British High Commission and research by economist Dinga Fatman, is instructive.

Afro Leo

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Andre Myburgh
22 July 2014 at 13:17 delete

Well, I can only hope that Mr Carrim's efforts open the way for having European Union member states recognising indigenous South African product names in principle and for the DTI to take action where needed, otherwise geographical indications remain only for the benefit of Europe. For example, in Switzerland (not an EU country, I know!), BILTONG remains the registered trade mark of a local company which applies it to dried meat products from eastern Switzerland and the UK - no change since my report at http://afro-ip.blogspot.ch/2012/09/swiss-based-firm-attempts-to-monopolise.html.