Job Opportunities

Geographical Indication:Protecting Unique Products

Products known to be from one geographical area are often more expensive than products which appear to be similar but are from a different area. For example, Champagne is a sparkling wine that is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France.

It normally costs eight times more than other varieties of sparkling wine. Similarly, tea which is grown in Sri Lanka tea, silk that's made in Thailand and whiskey that's made in Scotland is particularly good - and therefore quite expensive. In Vietnam, 11 agricultural products have been registered and assigned a geographical indication (GI) to identify and differentiate these products which are grown in specific regions from products grown elsewhere. Efforts are being made to similarly protect 68 other agricultural products. However, GI is a new concept for Vietnamese businesses and, with only 11 products so registered, one can see that little progress had been made in providing this form of protection.

The products are there
To certify GI for a product could help agricultural production, particularly in Vietnam, which is a leading exporter of pepper, rice, coffee and cashews.
Protecting agricultural products with GI would help small and large-scale farmers because they, for whatever reasons, do not register a trademark for their company's products. If GI was established, those living with the area defined would more likely team-up to organize more efficient production and marketing of their products.
The current trend today around the world is to try to use products that are more natural. Peoples' living standard in Vietnam, at least in the big cities, has been improving and products that are natural will come to be the first-choice both here in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Agricultural products that are GI protected in Vietnam could be recognized as such internationally and would be if Vietnam was to sign bilateral and multilateral agreements regarding the recognition and protection each other's GI protected products.
Commercial counselor at the EU Mission in Vietnam Antonio Berenguer spoke at a recent workshop 'Meeting Requirements on Geographical Indication and Product Origin to Increase Marketability and the Competitiveness of Vietnamese Agricultural Produce' in Ho Chi Minh City. He said that while 50-60 percent of Vietnam's population makes their living in agricultural endeavors, agricultural produce accounts for only 20-30 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This suggests that registering GI could only serve to improve the situation.
Registering - and protecting - what's real
At this time only 11 agricultural products in Vietnam are protected with GI registration. They are Shan Tuyet tea grown in Moc Chau, fish sauce made in Phu Quoc, the Blue Dragon fruit of Binh Thuan, coffee grown in Dak Lak, fish sauce made in Phan Thiet, grapefruit grown in Doan Hung, anise harvested in Lang Son, fragrant rice grown in Hai Hau, litchi in Thanh Ha, oranges in Vinh, and the tea grown in Tan Cuong. Some growers have registered for protection under a collective trademark. Examples are groups of growers marketing star apples grown in Vinh Kim, Blue Dragon fruit in Cho Gao, mangos in Hoa Loc and durian in Ngu Hiep. However, little has been done along this line.
No Vietnamese geographical indication has yet been registered outside the country. This is why it was legal for a Thai company to export their own 'Phu Quoc fish sauce' to France. Because Vietnamese businesses don't understand what GI is, they have little interest in it.
In fact fraud is common. Just as companies might produce pirated software, mislabel a product or make a copy of anything, so also unscrupulous people make false claims as to the origin of their products. This makes it impossible for consumers to know which products are genuine and it hurts businesses that produce genuine products. The president of Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Producers Association, Nguyen Thi Tinh, said 90 percent of the fish sauce sold in Vietnam that's labeled as being from Phu Quoc is in fact not from Phu Quoc at all. In Phu Quoc, producers can make only 15 million liters of fish sauce per year while nearly 150 million liters of 'Phu Quoc fish sauce' are sold in the marketplace.
Taking those first steps
A draft version of 'Geographical Indication Protection for Agricultural Produce and Food under Vietnamese Law' (materials compiled by the Vietnam Intellectual Property Department with support from the European Commission) outlines steps that need to be taken to make legal protection possible.
Products that could potentially be protected by GI registration need to be defined and GI needs to become a part of agricultural development policy. GI that is registered in Vietnam also needs to be registered abroad particularly in countries that have large Viet Kieu communities like the US, France, Germany and Russia.
Local governments need to become aware of which products are unique to their region and register for GI certification. They will need to be able to define and present a standard product for certification. Authorities must be willing to crack down on GI fraud to protect the reputation of genuine products.
Vietnamese governmental agencies need to sign bilateral international agreements on geographical indication recognition and protection with their counterparts in countries to which Vietnam exports produce. Vietnam must continue to work to establish Vietnamese geographical indication registration with foreign countries like Switzerland (with whom there is currently an ongoing geographical indication program) and France (French support to the Hai Hau Rice Association has led to GI registration of Hai Hau rice)./.