In June 2020, an examination procedure following a complaint on obstacles to the import of ‘Tequila’ in the European Union (EU) was opened by the European Commission (DG Trade).
This followed a decision by the “Consejo Regulador del Tequila” (CRT) – the certification body entrusted by the Mexican government to control and defend the GI Tequila – that had announced it would no longer grant export certificates to a company producing and exporting Tequila. The product for which the company concerned is controlled (and had received authorization for export) by the CRT, is intended to be bottled in Mexico and then commercialized as such. The product was rather sold in bulk, substantially modified to “reproduce” an aroma, and used as an ingredient in the production of a beer. Parallel to this, the CRT had initiated legal actions in France and in the Netherlands to fight against the GI infringement related to the production of such a beer without the authorization of the Mexican Government and the CRT control (Tequila to be sold in bulk is subject to another control scheme and requires a specific authorization).
Given the potential repercussions on crucial GIs principles, oriGIn requested the European Commission to be an interested party in the context of the examination procedure on the import of Tequila in the EU. Likewise, oriGIn raised awareness about the case and its implications among its members, several of which requested to be interested parties as well. Being considered an interested party allowed us to stress the following principles:
- The integrity of controls is a crucial element of the GIs system: Article 4.2 of the 1997 Mexico/EU Sprit Drinks Agreement sates that “… in the Community, the protected Mexican names: may not be used otherwise than under the conditions laid down in the laws and regulations of the United Mexican States…”. The Mexican Nom-006 of Tequila, which the CRT must apply on all operators involved in the value chain, provides that if a company declares to be producing Tequila to be bottled in Mexico and ready for sell to retailers, it will then be controlled to make sure relevant production rules are respected. If not, the CRT has an obligation under the Mexican law to refuse such a company the authorization to commercialize the product (similar rules apply to the controls of EU GIs).
- GIs are Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) which benefit producers for their efforts to guarantee a specific quality linked to a geographical environment as well as consumers in search of authentic products. Tequila is a GI recognized in Mexico, in the EU and in several jurisdictions around the world. The use of GIs as an ingredient is regulated both by the Nom-006 itself and by the new EU spirits Regulation. The adulteration of the original GI product to “reproduce” an aroma might incur the risk to mislead consumers, posing serious threats to GIs protection.
- Rules-based free trade should reduce obstacles to trade without compromising or affecting negatively crucial IPRs such as GIs.
The European Parliament also discussed the issue, with a parliamentary question raised by MEP Paolo De Castro to the European Commission in October 2020. It was answered by Commissioner Wojciechowski in January 2021.
The final assessment of the examination procedure by DG Trade is expected for the 13th of March 2021.