Thank you for the introduction Professor Marshall, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to speak at this colloquium. I would like to thank Bond University for the invitation, and for this very welcome opportunity to address a topic of huge importance for modern agri-food markets.
The question you have asked me to address today is: will Australia benefit from better legal protection for Geographical Indication products? And I'm sure you have already anticipated that my answer is a strong and resounding YES.
I hope to strongly impress upon you the conviction that a well-constructed GI policy can have a transformative impact on rural areas, rural economies, rural communities, and rural lives.
I propose to give you an overview of the European experience in regulating and promoting origin products, and why I believe this approach is fully applicable to Australia and your sophisticated exporting agri-food sector.
EU GI System
Our approach is all about building on our natural strengths: Europe has a long and proud tradition of producing the highest quality food and drink products, using the finest locally sourced ingredients and know-how.
Our GI system is simply a mechanism to formalise what already happens throughout Europe.
Long before the EU existed, people associated certain places with certain products, such as sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, dry-cured hams from the Parma region of Italy, or whisky in Scotland.
In Europe we retain a strong pride in the fact that behind these names are often centuries of respected culinary practices, agrarian traditions, and local expertise. In some cases, these products – the finest of food and drink - are linked to a specific geographic area or local microclimate; in others, they result from a carefully bred animal or specific production technique.
At the core of our approach is a commitment to giving food buyers and consumers accurate, useful and guaranteed information about the characteristics and attributes of the products they buy and consume.
Like products that are approved for intellectual property rights, the GI system in Europe is seen as the protection of rural intellectual property.
This approach is very much in tune with global consumer patterns, which value quality, traceability and provenance.
GIs are "products with a story," and the typical well-off consumer wants cheese, meat, wine or whisky with a story – tales of the men and women keeping alive traditional ways of doing things, in the place they call home; stories reflecting history and heritage. A name recognised as a GI tells such a story.
GIs are the embodiment of quality food & food that is special: A GI is special because of its origin. A name can only be protected as a GI if you can clearly demonstrate that the food or wine or spirit drink is special due to the place where it is made.
Think of wine: it's the combination of soil, weather and the know-how of the vintner coming together in the same place that gives a wine its flavour. If you buy wine with a trade mark, you may get a certain taste, year by year, but this may have little to do with the place of production. Wine with a GI guarantees you that it has its taste from one place, and not from another.
GIs also embody the spirit of caring about our heritage: Protecting a GI requires that production must take place in a given place, by traditional means.
Offering GI protection encourages people to think about their traditional food, re-discovering what is special about the food from a given place, and valuing this.
GIs embody the philosophy of caring about origin: in a globalised world, it is great to have food and drink that is different because of its origin; GIs are the opposite of a standardised restaurant chain meal which tastes the same all over the world, made to a standard recipe.
GIs protect diversity: in a globalised world homogenised by multinational brands, television and travel, consumers long for products with a difference. Buying a product with a GI ensures this. The more GI, the more diversity in the supermarket!
GIs are transparent: they let you know what's in your food! Protecting a name for the "real" food from a region requires having a recipe, and publishing it. With a GI wine, you can check what grape varieties go into it. For a GI cheese, you can check what animal breeds can be used for getting its milk.
Value of GI to rural development
And the economic dividend for the producer is beyond doubt.
According to EU studies, on average, the price obtained by the farmer or local producer for a traditional product is 2.23 times the price received for a comparable non-local product.
Income stability is also increased, as a farmer will typically sign longer-term contracts with suppliers for an origin product than for other foodstuffs. This resilience to fluctuating market patterns is music to local producers' ears, as it allows for better long-term planning and financial management.
Applying for a GI certification requires farmers in a given area to work together, which can enhance the sense of cohesion locally.
And there is also a further significant benefit which, although it cannot be calculated, has incalculable value – and that is pride.
Studies in Europe have shown that farmers and local producers feel a deeper connection to making origin products, given their link to local geography and culture. This enhanced pride of place can provide a boost to a local area, not just for farmers but throughout the community.
GIs help against delocalisation: GI protection means that a given name can only be used for products made in a specific place. If you delocalise production, you lose the right to use the name. In times of worry about delocalisation of manufacturing jobs, GI protection ensures that jobs stay put.
Trademarked production can be moved anywhere in the world. GI production cannot. Olive oil with the GI "Tuscany" is not only "designed" in Tuscany, but comes from olives grown on trees in Tuscany. You can go and check the trees!
This is why GIs maintain jobs in rural areas: both in Australia and in Europe, there is concern about abandoned small towns and villages in the countryside. What can we do to keep people and jobs there? How can we offer opportunities to the young?
Many GIs are produced in rural areas which face the constant threat of depopulation. GI protection means that the name can only be used as long as the product is made in a specific place. It has been shown that this can ensure that the jobs stay where they are, and production does not move to the place where it is cheapest.
Of course, GI products gain a premium price for our farmers.
There are currently around 3,400 GIs registered in the EU. A majority of these represent economic opportunities in rural areas, leading to more rural jobs, more rural families, and stronger rural communities. The contribution of GIs to this virtuous circle is immense.
I like to say that good food means good business, and GIs are living proof: The products on the EU GI register correspond to 6% of EU food and drink turnover (around €60 billion) but an impressive 15% of EU food and drink exports (around € 15 billion).
And this success is not restricted to Europe. GIs have become a global phenomenon in developed, emerging and developing countries alike.
All countries in the world have unique products deeply rooted in their geographical environments, which contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.
ORIGIN, the Organisation for an International Geographical Indications Network, has identified globally some 8000 GIs, and the EU is already protecting more than 1500 non-EU GIs.
GIs in the Context of EU-Australia FTA
Next I think it would be helpful to look at Geographical Indications in the context of the deepening trade relationship between the EU and Australia.
The first important point to note is that this is nothing new: we have enjoyed a long-standing mutually beneficial agreement on Wine since 1994.
This agreement protects EU wines in Australia and 109 Australian wine GIs in Europe.
Now, I am obliged to point out that before this agreement entered into force, many Australian wine stakeholders had concerns about it, but over the years Australian wine producers have embraced the GI concept and now see the advantages of it.
We are hopeful that a similar change in mindset will take place in relation to food product GIs.
This evolution has already happened inside the EU, where producers in many countries without a GI tradition have over the years started to appreciate the benefits of the system. Germany is a prime example of this.
There is clear potential to extend GI protection to high quality Australian food products.
I understand that there is growing support for GI protection among local producers in rural areas of Australia, particularly South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania.
And I have been told of a number of potential Australian candidates for GI protection, such as King Island Dairy products, King Island Beef, Tasmanian Whiskey, Huon Salmon, Bangalow pork or Tasmanian lobster.
Moving in this direction would also have a positive impact on our trade negotiations. The protection of GIs is a key element of the EU Trade policy, and the Australia FTA is no exception.
We are confident that we can find common-sense solutions under existing international law that will benefit us both.
As things stand, there are a lot of myths in circulation in relation to GIs. In reality, the majority of names for which the EU seeks protection under FTAs are not problematic.
Several names of products which are undisputedly of European origin and which in some cases refer to a specific place have become designate names without being protected as GIs. These include camembert, brie, cheddar, gouda, and mozzarella.
We were therefore perplexed to see Australian media reports stating that we are looking to protect names such as chorizo, ricotta, salami, chèvre and prosciutto. This is simply wrong, as these terms are not protected in the EU.
Of course, there will be difficult cases in the future FTA negotiation with AUS; but the EU has shown a willingness to find solutions for such cases, as we did in the CETA agreement with Canada. In looking for such common ground we need to be guided by the WTO rules we both abide by and strongly support.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have made a strong case for the value added of an enlightened GI system. Our experience in Europe has been resoundingly positive, and we intend to continue in the same direction.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and across the world we see similar regimes springing up.
Australia is a country with world-renowned food and drink products and a strong exporting tradition.
Therefore I would argue with confidence that doing more on the GI front is a no-brainer for you. It will help you to develop your quality food production and bolster rural economic development.
And we are committed to working closely with you in the context of the EU-Australia FTA to achieve a mutually satisfactory result. Thank you.