On the 9th of December, Australia and the EU will commence the sixth round of negotiations relating to the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement (AUSEUFTA). The preceding five rounds of negotiations have highlighted the importance of GIs protection in trade relationships, with food GI protection becoming a topical issue of the negotiations. As part of the AUSEUFTA, the EU has asked Australia to protect 236 spirit names and 172 agricultural and other foodstuff names as GIs in Australia. The names relate to a range of sectors including, dairy, meat, smallgoods, horticulture, confectionery, oils, beer and spirits. The published list of names can be viewed at
Australia, as a Member to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights 1994 (TRIPS Agreement), currently provides protection of GIs in two main ways:
- Pursuant to the Australian wine GI framework in relation to wines and grape products;
- As registration of certification trade marks in relation to GIs for all other products.
The negotiations present an opportunity for Australia to consider the implementation of a food GI framework. For Australia, this is important on two main bases: first, to consider the protection requested by the EU for EU food GIs and, second, to protect the assets that the country has in Australian regional names, that are used on food products to make an origin claim, as food GIs. Consideration of an Australian food GI framework is therefore important for Australia at both an international and national level. At an international level, it is important to emphasise that the EU is not Australia’s only trading partner interested in food GI protection pursuant to a dedicated GI framework. Many of Australia’s neighbouring countries such as China, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Singapore are also seeking to trade with countries that provide food GI protection pursuant to a dedicated GI framework. Their aim is to achieve the same high-level food GI protection at an international level as that provided pursuant to their national framework. These countries are not only interested in Australian food producers’ ‘clean and green’ image, and knowing that they comply with strict quality standards in producing food products, but are also very interested in knowing the story behind Australian food products. Many of these countries place significant emphasis on culture and traditions and processes and methods used to make food products. They seek out stories of provenance relating to food products from their trading partners as well as frameworks that identify and protect provenance and the connection between food and origin.
At a national level, the implementation of an Australian food GI framework would assist with overcoming the deficiencies of current Australian consumer protection, passing off and trademark laws that inadequately regulate the connection between food and origin. Deficiencies with these laws and regulations means that many food producers use Australian regional names on food labels to make origin claims on food products that lack any clear or strong connection with the region claimed. In doing so, many food producers and traders take advantage of, and benefit from, the reputation that Australian regions have for producing quality regional food and the value that accordingly exists in the relevant Australian regional names. For more information on these deficiencies, and problems resulting there-from, refer to my series of articles on “Australian Laws and Regulations on Regional Branding on Food and Wine Labels” Part 1 and 2 published in the Australian Intellectual Property Journal available at: http://sites.thomsonreuters.com.au/journals/2019/03/14/australian-intellectual-property-journal-update-vol-29-pt-2/ and at: http://sites.thomsonreuters.com.au/journals/2019/04/02/australian-intellectual-property-journal-update-vol-29-pt-3/.
For these reasons, the current AUSEUFTA negotiations provide an occasion for the Australian government and food industry to establish an Australian food GI framework that is tailored to cater for Australia’s needs at both an international and national level. By thinking locally, in terms of the distinctive regional qualities of Australia’s food products, and implementing a food GI framework to protect Australia’s regionality and Australian regional names, Australia could act globally in seeking GI protection worldwide for Australian food GIs. In that event, food GIs could be a very worthwhile investment for Australia.
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