Geographical indications (GIs) are a type of intellectual property right associated with place-based names. GIs are used to identify products that come from certain regions and have particular characteristics that indicate the product’s quality or reputation (e.g. “Champagne,” “Roquefort”). While GIs are protected by various legal principles and statutes—including sui generis GI laws, trademarks, certification marks, and collective marks—all GIs function to certify that a product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation due to its geographical origin. While the oldest and most developed systems of GI protection are found in Europe, other developing countries have recently begun implementing GI legislation domestically and seeking protection in international trade agreements, with the goals of promoting rural development and protecting local heritage and the natural environment.
Geographic indications, when managed to support the interests of local farmers, can bring sustainable economic development to developing countries. However, benefits to farmers are eroded when the focus shifts from regional uniqueness to corporate profits. Photo credit to krembo1.
As technological advances in communication and transportation continue to foster international economic transactions, the global distribution of agricultural products has increased competition among developing countries. In our globalized world of industrial agriculture, where large-scale producers from developed countries often benefit from government subsidies, agricultural producers in emerging economies are forced to achieve greater product differentiation to stand out from competitors and position themselves on more profitable market segments. As part of a comprehensive strategy to increase product differentiation and charge higher prices in the international market, GIs offer a promising avenue for enhancing the value of local products. Indeed, GI products tend to have a reputation for higher quality and therefore command a higher price than similar products that lack unique place-based characteristics.