THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.
The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.
In an oral statement, read out in his absence by the WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, Ambassador Agah said he will try to hold discussions on technical issues in early 2013. This would broaden the factual basis for the negotiations, he said, in a way that could allow members to delay the difficult “strategic” decisions about the talks’ content and their links with other subjects.
Geographical indications are place names, or words associated with a place, used to identify products that have a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic because they come from that place. The WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement prescribes a higher level of protection for wines and spirits than for other products.
The Trade Negotiations Committee oversees all the negotiating subjects in the Doha Round. Its chairperson is Director-General Pascal Lamy.
Ambassador Agah reported that the biggest stumbling block in the talks is differences of opinion over the mandate — including whether talks should only be about wines and spirits, as originally mandated, or whether other products could be added.
The negotiating standoff also concerns whether these talks should be linked to two other topics, both handled separately in consultations under Director-General Lamy (he reported that he had held no new consultations since his April 2011 report).
One is a proposal to amend the rules so that the current higher level of protection given to geographical indications of wines and spirits are extended to other products (“GI extension”). Some countries say that extending the higher level of protection to other geographical indications means that those products should also be covered by the register.
The other is a call to amend the TRIPS Agreement so that patent applicants are required to disclose the country of origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge used in the inventions. (The objective is to avoid biopiracy and inappropriate patenting, but some countries counter that this objective can be met without amending the agreement.)
Most but not all delegations are willing to “unbundle” the three subjects for the time being, so that some more technical work on the register for wines and spirits can go ahead, leaving any links with other subjects to be discussed later, he said.
This would not settle the wider question of whether the three subjects should be linked. But it would ensure that detailed technical issues did not get in the way of a future deal that might be struck if differences are resolved in the broader Doha Round package.
Ambassador Agah based his assessment on consultations he has held over the past few months, after the negotiating group met formally on 23 March. An informal meeting of the full membership was also held on 23 November.
The discussions have been based on instructions from the Geneva Ministerial Conference in December 2011, when WTO ministers acknowledged that the Doha Development Agenda talks are at an impasse and called for a change of approach.
A single draft text has been on the negotiating table since early 2011 following four months of intensive negotiations. But Ambassador Agah said that some delegations would only see merit in restarting the work if the mandate to negotiate a register for wines and spirits only is firmly “anchored” in the text. Others said there would be no point in negotiating the text if the mandate were the only issue discussed, he reported.
- Consultations on next steps and a report back to the full membership. No dates set. Possible meeting in March 2013.
Use the link to download the audio file or to listen to what he said:
Ambassador Agah’s oral report to the Trade Negotiations Committee, read by Director-General Pascal Lamy, TNC chairperson:
Origins and organization: The official name of the negotiating group is “Special Sessions” of the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) Council, which consists of all WTO members. As with all Doha Round (or Doha Development Agenda) negotiations, these sessions report to the Trade Negotiations committee, whose chair is Director-General Pascal Lamy.
Negotiations on the proposed multilateral register for wines and spirits began in 1997, under Art.23.4 of the WTO intellectual property agreement (TRIPS) and were added to the Doha Round when it was launched in 2001.
The talks focus on creating a multilateral register for wines and spirits and not about “GI extension” — extending to all products the higher level of protection currently given to wines and spirits — which is discussed in special meetings under Director-General Pascal Lamy
The three alternative proposals on the table are:
The Joint Proposal TN/IP/W/10/Rev.4 from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Rep.Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Chinese Taipei, South Africa, the US. This envisages the register as a database. Members would choose whether or not to participate in the register. The intellectual property authorities of participating members would consult the database when considering protection for individual trademarks or geographical indications within their countries.
TN/C/W/52 of 19 July 2008, from over 100 WTO members (the W/52 group), which includes a modified and stripped-down version of the EU’s original proposal for the multilateral register. It is now in the form of proposed “modalities” or a blueprint of the final outcome, with details to be negotiated later. Described as a negotiated compromise among the sponsors, the proposal envisages a system applying to all members although members could choose whether or not to register their own geographical indications.
All members would have to take a term’s registration “into account” and treat it as “prima facie” evidence (first sight, or preliminary, before further investigation) that the term meets the definition of a geographical indication. Further procedures for that term within each country would be handled entirely within the country’s domestic legal system. These include confirmation that the term is an eligible geographical indication, possible challenges, and whether it is subject to exceptions such as because the term is generic.
(Previously the EU had proposed that if a term is registered the assumption — the legal phrase is “irrebuttable presumption” — would be that it should be protected in all WTO members except those that have successfully challenged the term.)
Opponents of this proposal also object to the link with two other intellectual property issues: “extending” to all products the enhanced protection currently given to wines and spirits; and requiring patent applicants to disclose the origin of genetic materials and related traditional knowledge used in their inventions.
TN/IP/W/8 from Hong Kong, China: if a term is registered, this would be preliminary (“prima facie”) evidence — which could be rebutted — about who owns the term, that it is protected in the country of origin, etc, but only in those countries choosing to participate in the system. Hong Kong, China also proposes an initial period of four years for this system followed by a review.