TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar10/06)
12 March 2010
Third World Network

Positions remain unchanged on GI register
Published in SUNS #6878 dated 8 March 2010

Geneva, 5 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- The ongoing negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on a multilateral register of geographical indications (GIs) for wines and spirits saw no change in positions among Members.

This emerged at a formal meeting of the Special Session of the TRIPS Council Thursday, where the negotiations on the GI register are taking place.

According to trade officials, Members however gave the go-ahead to the new Chair, Ambassador Darlington Mwape of Zambia (who took over from interim Chair Ambassador Karen Tan of Singapore) to proceed on the basis of a so-called "3-4-5" plan.

The "3-4-5" process emerged partly from the work of previous Chair Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados who had posed some questions to Members, and subsequently issued a report (TN/IP/19) before he vacated the Chairmanship late last year, said trade officials.

According to trade officials, the process involves three clusters of issues identified by the previous chairs: legal effects or consequences, and participation in the register; notification and registration of terms in the register; other issues, such as fees, costs, administrative and other burdens, in particular, for developing countries and least developed countries, and special and differential treatment.

It also involves four questions:

-- "What legal obligations would be acceptable for the Register to facilitate the protection of geographical indications for wines and spirits, as mandated by Article 23.4 of the TRIPS Agreement?"

-- "When making decisions regarding the registration and protection of trademarks and geographical indications, what significance and weight should national authorities give to the information on the Register?"

-- "Are there any options regarding participation, other than voluntary and mandatory participation? If so, what criteria could be envisaged?"

-- "What form could special and differential treatment take with regard to the Register?"

To guide the discussions, the process further outlines five principles for future work identified in paragraph 16 of Ambassador Clarke's report:

-- the register's purpose is to "facilitate" protection for wines and spirits, not to increase protection;

-- the register should be useful and meaningful to participating Members in some way;

-- the "territorial nature" of intellectual property rights should be preserved (i. e., countries' right to determine how to protect intellectual property within their own territories);

-- the register should not be too burdensome financially and administratively;

-- developing countries should be given special treatment that is "precise, effective and operational".

According to trade officials, the European Union, Switzerland and several other Members said that they had compromised in order to reach agreement among over 100 Members to support document TN/C/W/52. They added that they had also explained their modified proposal at length.

They called on the "Joint Proposal" group (TN/IP/W/10/Rev. 2, including Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, Japan, Korea, Honduras, and others) to make matching compromises and a revised proposal.

According to trade officials, China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Nigeria and Switzerland stressed that progress in these negotiations also depended on progress on two other issues, namely, TRIPS/CBD disclosure and "GI extension" beyond wines and spirits.

Several developing countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba, Angola, Ecuador, Chile and Costa Rica called for clear and effective provisions on special treatment for developing countries.

The Joint Proposal group reiterated their opposition to the "parallel" discussion of the three issues (GI register, GI extension and TRIPS/CBD disclosure issue), said trade officials.

The Chair said that he would consult with Members as he prepares his report for the Doha "stock-taking exercise" at the end of March.

Ambassador Mwape also said that he had consulted the three groups before the meeting: the supporters of TN/C/W/52, the Joint Proposal group, and Hong Kong-China (which has tabled a middle-ground proposal).

Meanwhile, outgoing Chair Ambassador Tan reported to the new Chair and Members on her consultations.

Referring to her informal consultations with the groups sponsoring the Joint Proposal (TN/IP/10/Rev. 2) and the Modalities proposal (TN/C/W/52), as well as with Hong Kong-China on 16 December 2009 and 4 February 2010, Ambassador Tan said that "as an overall assessment, although the fundamental positions of delegations have not changed, it was my sense that there is a genuine and sincere desire on the part of delegations to move forward and resolve the remaining differences in these negotiations, so as to be ready to contribute to any movements in the wider context of the Doha Round negotiations.

"More specifically, I noted that Members appreciated the report of Ambassador Trevor Clarke made in TN/IP/19 as a fair and balanced reflection of the state of play and of remaining challenges, in particular in the two key areas of legal effects and participation, even if some points and suggestions were not shared by all delegations."

With regard to the five "Guiding Principles for Future Work" in Part C of the report on "The Way Forward", she said that she noted a general agreement that these principles were useful for future discussions.

Individual principles enjoy different levels of Members' enthusiasm, some delegations have highlighted particular concerns and there are finely nuanced views on what role they should play in the future work of this negotiating group.

"It seems, nonetheless, clear that they represent a succinct crystallisation of both common ground and remaining differences in these negotiations, even though there is no suggestion that they should form the basis of negotiations," she said.

As regards the structure of future work, she said that there is a widespread view among delegations that the discussion should avoid rhetorical debates and follow a practical approach, focusing in part on concrete practical examples and concerns regarding the implementation of each proposal at the national level.

To this end, several delegations indicated their willingness to make or develop case studies, examples and scenarios regarding the implementation of the different proposals into national law, she added.

"It was evident that the method to structure the discussion by the clusters of issues identified by my predecessors is well accepted by Members, and that the list of questions posed by Ambassador Clarke as Chair had been successful in further focusing the discussion among Members on critical areas of convergence or divergence."

"It was my own view that in terms of structuring the future discussions in this negotiating group, merit lay in utilizing all the elements that had been developed and already used to ensure that none of the work done hitherto would be lost, that discussions among Members move forward rather than repeat existing positions, and that the gaps identified between Members could eventually be bridged," Ambassador Tan concluded. +