THE unabated rhetoric and pledges by ministers and officials concerned about protecting ownership rights of goods and commodities of specific geographic origin, basmati in particular, have been more in focus in the past decade than the government’s indifference in enacting the geographical indication law.

This indifference seemed to be abating for a while when on Aug 17 the Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO)-Pakistan with the collaboration of USAID held a consultative session on the draft of Geographical Indication bill, 2016.

Representatives from chambers, trade associations, public organisations, law firms and the private sector took part in discussion. An IPO press release said the absence of a GI law was causing many problems to traders regarding the ownership of basmati rice and other origin-linked products in the international markets. The meeting decided to form a committee of stakeholders to formally review the draft and expedite passage of the bill.

The absence of GI law, one may note, has also led to shrinking investment in basmati rice processing, especially in Punjab, during the last decade. Earlier, inflow of new investment along with GI certification was expected to open new markets in the Middle East, Far East, Europe and North America for Pakistan’s basmati rice.


The absence of a GI law has also led to shrinking investment in basmati rice processing, especially in Punjab, during the last decade


Similar efforts were also made in the past but without any desired results. For instance, in 2001 a fast-track route was adopted by concerned officials by drafting an ordinance on Geographical Indications law. But it was decided it would not be implemented after legal experts showed dissatisfaction and termed the draft ‘vague and ambiguous’.

Commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan recently directed his ministry officials to revive the issue with the IPO but no action was taken. However, the minister will now have a better access to the IPO as its administrative control was transferred to the commerce division from the cabinet division on July 25, 2016.

It is worth recalling that a diplomatic conference in Geneva held in May 21, 2015 had adopted what came to be known as the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications.The Act allows international registration of GIs, in addition to appellations of origin, and permits accession to the Lisbon Agreement by certain intergovernmental organisations.

The new GI agreement drafted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation is expected to herald a new era of trade of GI products.

It was the patenting of basmati rice in 1996 by a US company, RiceTec, which woke India, Pakistan and other developing countries to the danger that lay ahead: centuries-old basmati’s survival.

RiceTec in its claim stated that basmati is a generic name and cannot be protected as a geographical indication. The company had been using the term ‘Basmati’ as a generic term for a considerably longer period. It had produced and marketed ‘Texas Basmati’ and ‘American Basmati’ and had been exporting the products for 15 years with no objection ever previously raised, a company statement had said.

However, while India took the threat to basmati seriously, Pakistan just ignored it. India wasted no time in enacting a GI law, called ‘the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999’, coupled with the ‘Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002’.

The Act became operational on September 5, 2003. Pakistan neither passed the important legislation nor established a GI registry.

Before this act, there was no separate legislation for GIs specifically. However, certification trademarks (CTM) were seen to be more focused on protecting indication of sources. In the Indian context, the most common geographical name protected under the CTM system, prior to the GI Act, was ‘Darjeeling Tea’.

The narrative that the trade mark law enjoys the same status as the geographical indication law was promoted by IPO-Pakistan soon after its formation in 2005 and granted ownership of basmati to Basmati Growers Association. But this was not accepted by the European Union and some other countries.

In 2006, commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan agreed to form a joint study group to explore the possibility of a joint registration of basmati as a geographical indication. The move also had the support of the All India Rice Exporters Association and the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan.

Under WTO rules two countries can apply together for registering a product or good as a GI under the ‘homonymous’ provision. A year later Indian commerce minister Kamal Nath took up the proposal with his Pakistani counterpart Humayun Akhtar but nothing came off.

In 2008, commerce secretaries once again got together to seek a joint GI for basmati. But the talks came to a halt after relations between the two countries deteriorated in the wake of terrorist attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

There are many products in Pakistan that can be registered as 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.

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.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, August 29th, 2016

Follow Dawn Business on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for insights on business, finance and tech from Pakistan and across the world.

Opinion

Editorial

Iran’s counterstrike
Updated 15 Apr, 2024

Iran’s counterstrike

Israel, by attacking Iran’s diplomatic facilities and violating Syrian airspace, is largely responsible for this dangerous situation.
Opposition alliance
15 Apr, 2024

Opposition alliance

AFTER the customary Ramazan interlude, political activity has resumed as usual. A ‘grand’ opposition alliance ...
On the margins
15 Apr, 2024

On the margins

IT appears that we are bent upon taking the majoritarian path. Thus, the promise of respect and equality for the...
Noshki killings
Updated 14 Apr, 2024

Noshki killings

It must be asked why Baloch separatists continue to target civilians as well as security men despite large deployment.
Upholding the law
14 Apr, 2024

Upholding the law

THE recent discord in Bahawalnagar offers a chance to reflect on the sanctity of the law and its enforcement across...
Tragic travels
14 Apr, 2024

Tragic travels

FOR those embarking on road and boat journeys, the probability of fatal accidents has seen a steady rise. The recent...