Getting products GI-tagged

Getting products GI-tagged

Two weeks back, the government formally handed over Geographical Indication (GI) certificates to six offices for six Bangladeshi products. Thus the total number of GI-tagged products increased to nine in the country. The six new GI-tagged products are:  Maslin of Dhaka, Shatranji of Rangpur, Silk of Rajshahi, Kataribhog and Kalijira rice of Dinajpur and Clay-crystalline cellulose composite of Bijoypur. Earlier, three products- Jamdani, Hilsha Fish and Khirsapat mango of Chapainawabganj became the GI products.

The core idea behind the GI tagging of any product is to officially recognise the uniqueness of the product due to its geographical origin. For example, when the Kataribhog variety of rice in Bangladesh gets GI tag as 'Kataribhog of Dinajpur', it means the rice possesses a unique size, fragrance and nutrition value. This is only possible for the variety of rice grown in Dinajpur, a northern district in Bangladesh.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO): "A GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin…Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of the production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of product." In other words, it is a symbol of legal recognition and exclusive right for the time being of the producers of the products.

Moreover, GI tagging is also a step to uphold the historical and heritage value of a geographical region represented by the products.  For instance, DhakaiMaslin or Maslin of Dhaka highlights the Maslin and underscores that it represents Dhaka, a city having a history of more than 400 years.

So, GI carries both historical and commercial value. Producers of GI products can create and enhance the brand value of the products in the market. Consumers can also differentiate between the products of the original geographical area and other places. Some consumers are even ready to pay premium price for GI products. If a consumer wants to get an authentic variety of Kataribhog rice from Dinajpur by paying an additional price, GI tagging helps him or her to ensure originality.

As GI is an element of intellectual property (IP) rights, it has a set of multinational rules and guidelines in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Moreover, there are several international treaties administered by the WIPO. Thus, GI also has a clear legal aspect, and it may sometimes spark legal dispute among the relevant parties.The GI dispute on Basmati rice between India and Pakistan is a classic case in point.

Both India and Pakistan have tagged Basmati rice as their GI products. India registered the fine variety of rice as Indian Basmati in 2016, while Pakistan registered it as Pakistan Basmati in 2021 with the IP offices of the respective countries. The dispute arose when India applied for exclusive GI rights for Basmati rice in the European Union (EU) in September 2020. The protected geographical indication (PGI) is a particular type of GI for agricultural, agro-food and wine sectors in the EU, which also provides the exclusive right to non-European Countries. Though the EU initially approved the application, Pakistan opposed the move and filed a counter-petition arguing that Basmati rice is also a Pakistan product. As the EU has accepted the petition, the dispute is now at a consultation stage.

Interestingly, in 2006, the EU had recognised Basmati as a joint product of India and Pakistan which kept the market open for both the countries exporting Basmati rice. It is learnt that two countries may finally accept a joint-right of exclusivity of the basmati rice in the EU market.  This will secure the export of basmati rice from both countries in the EU.

The basmati case shows that regional countries are likely to dispute common products to secure their international market. Bangladesh and India have some common products due to geographical proximity. For example, there are common varieties of mangoes, fishes and rice in both countries.

West Bengal, an Indian state adjoining Bangladesh, has already registered GI tagging to Laxman Bhog Mango, Khirsapati (Himsagar) Mango and Fazli Mango grown in the district of Malda. Meanwhile, Bangladesh also hasregistered its Khirsapatvariety  of mango of  Chapainawabganjas a GI product. However, so far, there is a problem as GI is region-specific, and the protection is generally local, not global.

Industrial and agricultural IP rights like patent, industrial design, trademark or GI is not global. If any innovator or producer wants to secure any of the right, it has to claim it legally in the  country in question. Thus, any product registered as a GI product in Bangladesh doesn't automatically guarantee GI in other countries or globally. For example, Bangladesh Hilsha as GI product is registered in Bangladesh ensures that the variety of Hilsha fish carries some unique taste, size, and flavour that do not belong to Hisha of India. If India tags GI to West Bengal Hisha, that will indicate a different variety of Hilsa fish not similar to that inBangladesh.  The problem will only arise if any country wants to secure protected GI in a  third country, European Union to be precise, and to which another country objects.

Again, GI dispute inside a country is also widespread. When West Bengal applied to secure GI for BanglarRasogoll, a popular sweetmeat in India and Bangladesh, Indian state of Odisha opposed the move and sought GI for Rasogolla. So, a battle between two Indian states'to claim GI intensified. BanglarRasogolla, however, got a GI tag in 2017. Two years later, in 2019, Odisha Rasogolla also got its GI recognition. 

In Bangladesh, there is already an objection raised by a researcher on providing GI tag to Rajshahi Silk in a long article in a vernacular daily. He argued that the Chapainawabganj Silk should get a GI tag as the history and development of silk is extensively linked with Chapainawabganj. This geographical area is a northern district of the country which earlier was a sub-division under Rajshahidistrict.  It is unclear whether the objection was formally submitted to the IP office when it had opened the GI journal for Rajshahi Silk seeking public opinion. Nevertheless, any complaint backed by strong fact-based evidence needs to be taken into consideration.

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