Consultations on protecting EU Geographical Indications

IP Australia has published a Consultation Paper on a possible new Geographical Indications Right.

You probably know we are not supposed to call a fizzy or bubbly alcoholic beverage made from grapes “Champagne” unless it comes from that special part of France (that’s France in the EU, not Texas).[1]

This, and a range of other prohibitions, stem originally from the Australia-EU Wine agreement (and its successors) back in the 1990s which was supposed to give our wine producers much easier access to the EU market in return for respecting their cultural properties. (I’m not sure if anyone has ever undertaken an empirical assessment to see how that worked out.)

As previously reported, our Government and the EU are in the throes of negotiating a more wide ranging Free Trade Agreement. As part of those negotiations, the EU wants Australian law to significantly broaden the number and scope of EU “geographical indications”[2] which are protected to include a further 236 spirit (as in alcoholic beverages) names and 172 agricultural and other names.

The Consultation Paper is a further round in seeking input on this proposal. Now, it is important to note, that the Consultation Paper does state:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

It appears that, in addition to protecting any EU GIs ultimately agreed, what the Government is now considering would put in place a mechanism for registration of new or additional GIs as well.

The Consultation Paper itself sets out 11 questions on which comments are particularly sought:

Registering a GI

Q.1 What types of goods should be eligible for protection as a GI?

Q.2 Should GIs filed under a new system cover a single good or multiple goods?

Q.3 Are there particular safeguards that should be considered for a new GI right?

Q.4 Under what circumstances should two rights, for example a new GI and an earlier trade mark, be able to co-exist?

Q.5 What level of detail should be required for any conditions of use, such as production methods, boundaries and what it means for a product to come from the region?

Standard of protection vQ.6 Should a new GI right extend the international standard of protection for wines and spirits to all goods? Are there other practices that should be prevented?

Using a GI right

Q.7 Who should be able to apply for a GI in Australia?

Q.8 Should those who meet the requirements of a GI be able to use the GI automatically, or should they need approval from the GI right holder?

Enforcing GIs

Q.9 Should any user be able to enforce a GI or should it be limited to the GI right holder?

Q.10 Should criminal enforcement be available for GIs registered in Australia?

Costs and Benefits

Q.11 What would be the costs and benefits to Australian industry, producers, and consumers of creating a new GI right?

Did I mention, the Consultation Paper does make clear:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

The Consultation Paper mentions that a common thread in submissions from the earlier round was the need to ensure that GIs could not be used to stop the continued use of food names already in common use. It envisages that there would be an opportunity to oppose registration on the basis that the term is a common or generic name for “a plant variety or animal breed” in Australia.

It’s not clear if the grounds of opposition would be limited to common or generic terms which are names of a plant variety or animal breed, or they are just examples of what might be common or generic terms.[3] (It should be noted that the wine producers who were using “champagne”, “burgundy”, “claret” and the like didn’t get to oppose those GIs.)

Moreover, p. 2 of the Consultation Paper does note that in the previous round of consultations people could object to the EU’s proposed lists of further GIs but, if Australia agrees to protect any of them as part of the FTA, they will not go through the application and opposition process. They will go straight on to the Register.

But remember:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

On the subject of the Register, the Consultation Paper envisages that there would be a new Register created through amendment of the Trade Marks Act 1995. Hopefully, that would bring in all the currently protected GIs as well. Hopefully, it would also be more integrated and searchable than the current hotch potch.

On the more positive side, the Consultation Paper does say (p.3) that protection would not extend to a term like “camembert” alone if the GI registered was “Camembert de Normandie”.

On the other hand, the EU is seeking protection against uses which “evoke” a registered GI. On p. 5, the Consultation Paper notes that:

in the EU a producer has been prevented from selling whisky labelled ‘Glen Buchenbach’ because ‘glen’ (meaning ‘valley’) is a term used in Scotland and was found to evoke the GI ‘Scotch Whisky’. As another example, cheese sold in packaging with images of windmills and sheep was found to evoke the Spanish GI ‘Queso Manchgeo’[4] because those images are typical of the region in Spain where the GI is produced.

Maybe camembert is made in other parts of France than Normandy? What happens if that were to change and only the Normandy producers could use camembert “over there”? How would you test whether (presumably) Australian consumers would associate windmills and sheep with Don Quixote country? Don’t the Dutch have sheep? Would it matter what kind of windmill? Would the test be what Australian consumers would understand?

According to the Consultation Paper, consultations are open until 30 November 2020. In addition, there:

  • is GI Survey (you may have to agree to the privacy policy etc. before you get in);
  • will be a Webinar – outline of GI consultation on 30 September at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be a Virtual Roundtable – Standard of protection on 13 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – Australian use of GIs on 15 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – General operation of a possible GI system on 20 October at 12 noon to 1pm
  • will be Virtual Roundtable – GIs and Indigenous Knowledge on 22 October at 12 noon to 1pm

Links and more information about these via this page.

So, while:

Nothing in this consultation paper means the Australian Government has agreed, or will agree, to make any changes to its existing GI regulatory framework or policy.

we can hardly claim we are not being properly consulted.


  1. We are also not supposed to use “traditional expressions” on our wines. These matters are currently regulated under the Wine Australia Act 2013. There is a rudimentary overview with links to the Register of protected expressions here.  ?
  2. The Consultation Paper defines a “geographical indication” as “a name that identifies a product as originating in a country, region or locality where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to that geographic origin.” The definition in s 4 of the Wine Australia Act is in much the same terms, but limited to “wine goods”.  ?
  3. Although it is headed “Commercial in confidence”, a Google search on “yarra valley fetta” turned up this impassioned defence of “fetta” / “feta” as a common or generic term (but not, I think a plant variety or breed of animal).  ?
  4. I suspect that is Manchego. But it looks like Coles would be safe.  ?

Prosecco, GIs and the possible EU FTA

The last few weeks have seen increasing rumblings within Australia about some of the consequences if a possible Free Trade Agreement with the EU goes through.

One of the main features the EU is seeking is expanded protection for the thousands of “GIs”, or geographical indications, recognised in the EU.

The potential impact of the EU FTA requiring Australian producers to stop calling their non-Italian products ‘prosecco’, a GI in the EU, has been generating some media excitement: see:

Professor Mark Davison and colleagues have a paper forthcoming in the AIPJ exploring the validity of the claims to protection [SSRN paper here]

We have been here before – when the EU-Australia Wine Agreement knocked out use of names like ‘champagne’ in return for greater access to the EU for Australian sparkling and other wines.

When the second version of that agreement replaced the 1994 version, the National Interest Assessment pointed out:

8. In 2006-07, Australia exported 421 million litres of wine to the EC with a value of $1.3 billion, and imported 10.2 million litres with a value of $168 million. Key regulatory and intellectual property issues related to trade in wine between Australia and the EC are currently regulated by the 1994 Agreement. 

9. The Agreement offers a number of advantages to Australian wine-growers, which will help consolidate their access to the EC market at a time when the domestic industry still faces concerns about an over-supply. The new Agreement also resolves several outstanding issues not covered by the 1994 Agreement, and thus will help maintain a mutually beneficial trade relationship with the EC.

10. In particular, the Agreement obliges the EC to permit the import and marketing of Australian wines produced using 16 additional wine-making techniques. It also sets out a simpler process for recognition of further techniques, with an option for disputes to be resolved by a binding arbitration. Under the 1994 Agreement, by contrast, the process for authorisation of new wine-making practices has no binding dispute settlement procedure, and no new practices have been authorised under the 1994 Agreement. This has been particularly problematic for Australian wines produced with an important wine-making technique involving the use of cation exchange resins to stabilise the wine. This technique was provisionally authorised for 12 months under the 1994 Agreement, and this authorisation has since had to be periodically extended for 12-month periods.

11. The Agreement also obliges the EC not to impose any new wine labelling requirements that are more restrictive than those which apply when the proposed Agreement comes into force. This means that industry will not face the difficulties and additional costs that might arise if the EC was permitted to introduce more onerous wine labelling requirements.

12. Finally, the Agreement obliges the EC to recognise and protect new Australian wine Geographical Indications. A Geographical Indication is a label or sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin.

How it will play out this time, who knows? As usual, the Australian government is keeping its position largely secret from us. The EU, however, is quite open about what it is seeking (Compare DFAT here and here and here to EU proposed text here see esp. article X.22 and from X.31 and generally).

Free trade Dream Time

Australia has entered into Free Trade Agreements (1) with NZ and ASEAN and (2) with Chile.

ASEAN as a bloc is apparently our largest trading partner.

Chapter 13 deals with Intellectual Property. Various fact sheets, e.g. Pharmaceuticals, deal with our exports or imports thereto.

Minister Crean’s press releases here and here.

AANZFTA here and chapter 13 here; Australian guide with links to all sorts of things. Trade overview. The words “may” and “shall endeavour to” feature quite a lot in Chapter 13.

Australia-Chile FTA index and chapter 17 (IP) here.

Hey, our 12 month grace period for filing patents will work in Chile, see art. 17.22! Can’t spot a corresponding provision in the AANZFTA? Also, to facilitate domain name dispute resolution, Chile has agreed to adopt an UDRP-style dispute resolution process for its cc.TLD (assuming it doesn’t already have one, of course).