TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/07)
10 March 2011
Third World Network

A complete draft text emerges on GI register for wines and spirits
Published in SUNS #7102 dated 7 March 2011

Geneva, 4 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- A complete draft text for setting up a multilateral register for Geographical Indications (GIs) for wines and spirits has finally emerged, albeit one that is littered with square brackets reflecting the divergent positions on the various issues.

Work on the draft first began around mid-January this year, with trade officials pointing out that the draft was being assembled piece-by-piece in a small drafting group. (See SUNS #7067 dated 17 January 2011.)

According to trade officials, the draft text has followed a six-point sequence of elements, namely, notification, registration, legal effects/consequences of registration, fees and costs, special treatment for developing countries and participation.

The complete draft text was presented to a formal meeting of the Special Session of the WTO TRIPS Council on 3 March, where the negotiations on the GI register are taking place.

The nine-page draft, according to trade officials, contains some 208 pieces of text highlighted in square brackets (denoting a lack of agreement).

According to trade officials, several delegations pointed out that the producing of a complete draft text on the GI register represents a swift result after 13 years of talks that have seen a lot of views exchanged but little movement in positions.

However, added trade officials, these delegations were of the view that the real challenge still lies ahead, namely, negotiations on narrowing down the differences and removing the square brackets.

Trade officials cited the Chair, Ambassador Darlington Mwape of Zambia, as characterizing the ongoing drafting process as "fragile and delicate" and the text as a "work in progress". (See below for excerpts of his report at the formal meeting.)

An Indian delegate at the meeting was cited as saying that "one can easily see the 'work', but I'm a bit doubtful about the 'progress'."

Members broadly appreciated the process and several said that the text can be a basis for moving ahead, said trade officials.

The discussions at this meeting took up the issue of special and differential treatment, and fees and costs, said trade officials.

The section in the draft text dealing with special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries proposes transitional time-periods, namely, these countries being entitled to delay the implementation of the multilateral system of notification and registration of GIs for wines and spirits for a period of time (a number of years yet to be agreed).

It also proposes technical assistance for these countries, to be provided by the WTO Secretariat (in translations) and/or developed country Members (technical and/or financial).

Differences emerged over the question of the transition periods in implementing the system, said trade officials, with some developing countries in the "W/52" group (sponsors of proposal TN/C/W/52, numbering over 100 countries including the European Union, Switzerland, India, Brazil and China) proposing that developing countries be given a transition period of 10 years after the system comes into force before they have to consult the terms in the GI register, and for least-developed countries, a period of 20 years.

On the other hand, trade officials said that the "Joint Proposal" group (sponsors of TN/IP/W/10/Rev. 3, comprising Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Chinese Taipei, South Africa and the United States) was of the view that the delay in implementing the system would start from when a developing or least-developed country volunteers to participate in the system.

Trade officials also said that there were differing views on the issue of fees and costs -- whether the cost of setting up and administering the system should be borne by the central budget of the WTO Secretariat (which is funded by all WTO Members), or whether "user fees" should be charged to countries registering their terms in the register.

Trade officials also noted that since this was a formal meeting, Members restated their previously-held positions for the record of the meeting.

According to trade officials, the Joint Proposal group distributed a revised proposal (TN/IP/W/10/Rev. 3) that now includes a section on special and differential treatment (both for developing and least-developed countries), which aligns the formatting with the structure of the draft text on the GI register.

The "W/52" group said that it is also coordinating on producing a common text, but that this will take some time because of the group's size. It also wants to prepare texts on the issue of GI extension (extending the higher level of protection beyond wines and spirits) and TRIPS "disclosure" (on amending the TRIPS Agreement to require amongst others that patent applicants disclose the origin of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge) as well, trade officials added.

In his report at the meeting on 3 March, the Chair said that regarding the mandate to produce a negotiating text, he had made it very clear that any text should emerge - as much as possible - from Members themselves, in line with the general directions laid out for this phase of the overall negotiations.

With regard to the drafting group's paper, the Chair recalled that the composite text has emanated exclusively from Members themselves, and not from the Chair, and that this composite text represents "work in progress".

The Chair stressed that although Members have come quite far with this process, "it still remains somewhat fragile and delicate - and since I believe that we will need this process for a little longer, I would like to maintain this format for the time being."

"It continues to be my intention to open the text up to drafting suggestions from the entire membership once sufficient substance is on the table. Looking at the number of square brackets in the current text, I believe we are not quite yet in a situation where this would be constructive, and I am therefore not opening the text for amendments in this session. However, it is my hope that we reach such a stage before the Easter deadline," he added.

The Chair also underlined that the purpose of the formal meeting was for delegations - particularly those not present in the drafting group - to be able to put on record their views on the progress of the consultations and the current composite text.

"In view of past experience, let me remind delegations that the mandate in this forum is for negotiations on the establishment of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits. Despite my having received repeated assurances from all sides that this would be respected, we have still spent considerable time [in the drafting group] talking about whether or not the composite text should be neutral with respect to possible GI extension or not, and I must say that this has not been to my liking."

"Against that background - and although this issue has found its way implicitly into the draft composite text - let me say that I have no intention of entertaining this discussion here and I would therefore explicitly ask delegations to keep it outside this forum," Ambassador Mwape told the membership.

Trade officials however noted that (despite the Chair's plea), a discussion on the issue of GI extension took place at the meeting.

[Trade observers note that the subject of including Geographical Indications of origin for wines and spirits under the Trade Marks standards of the TRIPS accord was a European Communities (EC) item in the Uruguay Round negotiations, and incorporated as Article 23 of the TRIPS agreement as part of a range of compromises negotiated between the US and the EC and imposed as part of the Dunkel text leading to the Marrakesh agreement.

[But no agreement could be reached on provisions for establishing a multilateral system of notification and registration, and the issue was shoved onto a future work programme at the TRIPS Council. Work on this could move forward only as a result of the prospect held out to developing countries on similar GI protection for products other than wines and spirits, and the item (both extension to other products, as well as the "disclosure" issue) was brought up at Doha in 2001 at the time of the launch of the current round of negotiations.

[But no agreement could be reached, and the WTO head was asked to hold further consultations. However, the many developing countries and others pushing these issues made clear that an accord on bringing these into the Doha talks, and reaching an agreement, as far as they were concerned, would have to be part of the "single undertaking". - SUNS] +