The European Commission has signed a co-operation agreement with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) to improve the protection of traditional agricultural products (geographical indications -GIs) in Africa.
This will involve, among other matters, promoting the GI legal framework, informing producers and other stakeholders and enhancing the public's awareness of GIs and their potential for African producers.
The following names have been proposed as candidate for GI protection in joint work carried out by the EU and the African Union. These include: Ghana Fine Flavour Cocoa, Shama shea butter from Ghana, Rooibos and Karoo lamb, both from South Africa and Rift Valley Coffee from Tanzania.
Dacian CioloÅÂŸ, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said "This cooperation will result in better protection for farmers' traditional and indigenous products across Africa. This is an important initiative, which will help secure the interests of African farmers."
He added, "I urge officials on both sides to work together and with stakeholders to make the geographical indications programme a reality in 2013. This will make a strong contribution to the FAO's International Year of Family Farming in 2014."
Speaking at the opening plenary of the 36th session of ARIPO's Administrative Council in Zanzibar, Tanzania, where the agreement was signed, Dr Gift Sibanda, ARIPO's Director General, declared "I am delighted with this agreement.
We took a strategic decision last year to develop geographical indication protection. Through this cooperation with the Commission, we hope to build a system of effective GI protection, suited to African farmers' needs."
Instructively, the (non-legally binding) agreement is an administrative memorandum of understanding in which the Commission's agricultural department and ARIPO undertake to work together in development of GIs.
The EU has developed over time a comprehensive scheme of protection of geographical indications, which encourages diverse agricultural production, protects product names from misuse and imitation and helps consumers with information on specific characteristics of products.
In December 2011 the ARIPO Council adopted a decision to develop a system for protection of geographical indications. The Commission has worked with ARIPO through regional seminars to promote the use of intellectual property rights in inter-regional and international trade.
The present memorandum of understanding will formalise this cooperation in respect of geographical indications.
ARIPO is based in Harare, Zimbabwe, and brings together 18 member countries (Botswana, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and 12 observers.