At the third Special Session meeting of the WTO Committee on Agriculture, held in Geneva this week, the European Union (EU) tabled two proposals, one on the protection of geographical indications and the other on the "green box" measures.
Green box is domestic support that is deemed to be minimally trade-distorting and that is excluded from reduction commitments under the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA).
As to geographical indications, the EU emphasises the importance of increased market access for products of certain denominations.
"We cannot let people believe that they are buying a genuine product with specific qualities, characteristics and reputation associated with a certain geographical origin, such as Parma Ham or Champagne, while in fact they get a entirely different product," EU negotiator David Roberts said in Geneva.
Therefore an appropriate mechanism should guarantee effective protection against usurpation of names and the right to use geographical indications or designations of origin. Consumer protection and fair competition should also be ensured.
When a food product becomes well known outside its area of origin, it may have to compete with different and yet similar products making use of the same name. It may even be excluded from exploiting its own geographical name because local producers have converted it into a trademark.
"Unauthorised use of geographical indications is extremely harmful to consumers and legitimate producers. On the one hand, the genuine producers suffer economic damage because valuable business is taken away from them and the established reputation for their products is compromised.
On the other hand this situation also leaves the consumers with feelings of frustration because they do not receive the specific quality of product which the label suggest they are buying," said David Roberts, the European Commission's negotiator at the WTO agriculture talks.
Therefore it is important that increased market access goes hand in hand with enhanced protection. Whilst promoting the development of high-quality food products, it should at the same time guarantee this quality to consumers.
"Improved market access for such products is not only important for the EU. Developing countries, who possess a great richness and variety of food products based on traditional know-how, stand to benefit as well from increased protection against misuse of their specialised food product denominations. Therefore, the EU proposes that an appropriate protection mechanism should be put in place."
The second EU paper presented on Sept 25 stresses that the current "green box" provisions have contributed to implement policies to protect the environment and to help preserve the viability of rural areas.
According to the EU, new green box measures should also cover concerns such as animal welfare, without distorting trade.
This special session is being the work programme of the second phase of negotiations to continue the reform process under Article 20 of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).
The current green box provisions have contributed to implement policies to protect the environment and to help preserve the viability of the rural areas. The EU believes that all the countries have the right to choose to preserve or develop the economic and social environment necessary to maintain their rural populations.
The current provisions provided for in the AoA represent the right disciplines to address these issues and should therefore be maintained. "Coverage of new measures relating to increasingly important issues, such as animal welfare, should also be adequately guaranteed," the EU negotiator explained. He added that however "green box measures should respect the essential condition of the green box: not to distort trade."