ISLAMABAD has failed to enact a Geographical Indications law for protecting ownership rights of commodities that have a Pakistan-specific geographical origin and are distinguishable by their quality, reputation, or other distinct characteristics.
The GIs’ use promotes commerce by informing the customer of a product’s origin. Often this may imply a certain quality, which the customer may be looking for. GIs can be used for industrial and agricultural products. The law can help improve visibility of several Pakistani export items on the world markets.
A GI draft law is lying with the government for the last 15 years awaiting finalisation. The draft is still to be vetted by the Ministry of Law. It is said that the Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) has been sitting on it.
Various ministries are just exchanging files while other countries are using Pakistani GIs for their commercial gains
The State Bank of Pakistan in its annual report 2014-15 has stressed early enactment of the law to promote exports.Various ministries are just exchanging files while other countries are using Pakistani GIs for their commercial benefits.
The TRIPs Agreement (Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights) of the World Trade Organisation came into force in 1995. Pakistan was supposed to comply with the TRIPs standards with respect to GIs by January 1, 2000.
The GI law would enable Pakistan to avail the zero duty regime on basmati rice exports to the European Union market. In 2001, an ordinance on Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) was drafted, but it was not implemented.
Legal experts then termed the draft ‘vague and ambiguous’. Since then the proposed move was put on back burner. Rice exporters also did not pursue the matter aggressively.
Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan some months ago ordered his ministry to take up the issue with the IPO, but no progress has so far been reported.
Like several other organisations, the IPO also falls administratively under the Cabinet Division. Analysts suggest that the IPO should be put under the ambit of a technical ministry to improve its capability and performance.
IPO officials say Pakistan registers GIs under certification marks within the ambit of the trademark law. Moreover, they believe that Pakistan is incapable of implementing registration of products under GIs law and should stay on the certification mark route.
But legal experts differ: a GI is not the same as a certification mark. A GI is always attached to specific land and thus bestows significant premiums, for instance, Champagne wine from Champagne in France.
There are so many products in Pakistan with geographical indications. They include basmati rice, Sindhri mango, Shikarpuri pickles, Qasuri methi, Bannu spices, Chinniot furniture, Sialkot’s footballs, Multani halva, Hala ki ajrak, Sargodha’s kinno, Chaunsa mango; wild mushrooms of Swat, Neeli Ravi buffalo and Chaman grapes etc.
Pakistan has challenged New Delhi’s move to secure exclusive right to ‘Basmati’ brand name, but has done nothing to establish its claim on it as producer of ‘Super Basmati’.
The issue is not confined to basmati rice. India has also accorded IP protection to at least two varieties of mangoes which are homonymous to indigenous Pakistani varieties -- ‘Fazli Mango’ of West Bengal and ‘Dussehri Mango’ of Uttar Pardesh.
Similarly, a citrus fruit -- ‘kinno’ -- exclusively produced in Pakistan is now being grown and exported by other countries as Pakistan has no GI law for the protection of its exclusive right.
The GI law would enable Pakistan to file applications to protect its various GIs in such countries.
To avoid monopolies and conflict of interests in registration of GIs, the government needs to look at practices in other countries.
For example, in India, multi-interest boards for each product are established. To protect the interests of Darjeeling tea growers, an India tea board was established. The board is tasked to develop markets for other varieties of tea, and protection of rights of tea growers that fall under its geographical indication.
Such boards can be set up in Pakistan representing all stakeholders and can help to resolve conflicting interest.
With consumers in export markets getting more conscious of identity and quality of products, Pakistan needs to move on with IP legislation and create niche markets for its GI products, particularly for fruits and vegetables.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, January 18th, 2016