On 8 June 2020 the European Commission received a complaint by an industry association regarding an obstacle to the import of ‘Tequila’ in the European Union (EU). The complaint submits that, on 7 February 2020, the “Consejo Regulador del Tequila” (CRT) – the body entrusted by the Mexican government to control and defend the Geographical Indication (GI) Tequila – announced it would no longer grant export certificates to a company producing and exporting ‘Tequila’.
oriGIn is closely following this case because it might have repercussions on core GIs principles.
The Tequila for which the company concerned is controlled (and had received authorization for export) by the CRT, according to the Mexican rules and procedures, is intended to be bottled in Mexico and then commercialized as such. However, the product sold by this company is not intended for the retail market, but rather substantially modified to “reproduce” an aroma, which is used as an ingredient in the production of a beer by a third party. Parallel to this procedure before the European Commission, the CRT has initiated legal actions in France and the Netherlands for infringement of the GI Tequila related to the production of such beer.
In the context of the examination procedure on the import of Tequila in the EU, it is important to recall the following:
- 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.
As GIs are appreciated by consumers around the world, they benefit from free trade. Modern Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) regularly provide a chapter concerning the protection of GIs. oriGIn is in favor of rules-based free trade, which reduces obstacles to trade without compromising or affecting negatively crucial IPRs such as GIs.