EU pushes for GI protection for spirits in Australia free trade deal

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

The EU is seeking protection of 236 spirit names in Australia. Pic:getty/marvic
The EU is seeking protection of 236 spirit names in Australia. Pic:getty/marvic

Related tags: Geographical indications, European union

As the EU and Australia negotiate a free trade agreement, the EU has given Australia a list of more than 200 spirit names with geographical indicators that it wants protected as part of any deal.

Products on the list include Scotch Whisky, Irish Whiskey, Rum de Madeira and Calvados.

This means that Australian producers would not be able to use any direct or indirect use of the GI name for comparable products. It would, however, hope to create stronger protection and recognition for products made in the EU in Australia. 

What's in a name? 

In the EU, a GI is essentially a name used on a product that has a specific geographical origin, and possesses qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. 'Champagne' is a well-known example of a GI. Once a GI is protected, the name may not be used except by producers who meet the rules protecting the GI.

The issue is perhaps most pronounced in the dairy industry, where Australian producers would not be able to market products with names such as Feta or Gorgonzola: or even a ‘Feta-style’ cheese. Australia’s National Farmers’ Federation has already objected to the plans.

As part of negotiations for an EU – Australia free trade agreement, the EU has asked Australia to protect a total of 400 product names: including 236 spirit names and 172 other names across dairy, meat, confectionery and horticulture.  

The list of product names in the spirits industry include Calvados (France), Cassis de Dijon (France), Cognac (France), Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser (Germany), Ouzo (Greece), Irish Whiskey, Grappa (Italy), Polish Vodka , Swedish Vodka, Scotch Whisky and Somerset Cider Brandy (UK). 

UK products - such as Scotch Whisky and Somerset Cider Brandy - are included on the list: but could be affected differently by the UK's departure from the EU. 

The EU concept of a GI shows some differences to that in Australia. For example, the EU wants Australia to consider preventing 'evocation' - meaning that using the colours of the Italian flag on the label of an Australian-made cheese would be seen as evoking the GI of a particular Italian cheese.

Prosecco problems

Australia and the EU already have an existing wine agreement over protection of GIs. As part of the FTA negotiations, the EU is also requesting protection for ‘Prosecco’ and ‘Vittoria’. These two terms are not included in the existing wine agreement and are not currently protected as GIs in Australia.

Prosecco, for example, is considered as a GI in the EU for the region that makes Prosecco wine. Australian Prosecco makers, however, label their wine Prosecco on the basis of the grape variety used. The European Commission had previously tried to register Prosecco in Australia as a GI, but this was successfully opposed by the Winemakers' Federation of Australia. 

Champagne is already recognised as a GI in Australia, meaning that only products that come from the French region can be labelled as Champagne. 

Scotch Whisky

Around £114m ($137m USD / $202m AUD) of Scotch Whisky is exported to Australia a year. It has been protected in the country by a Certified Trademark since 2014. 

"Only whisky produced in Scotland in accordance with UK legislation can be sold as Scotch Whisky,"​ explains the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). "The Scotch Whisky Association and its member companies work hard to protect Scotch Whisky and consumers against all forms of unfair competition."

"Legal protection for Scotch Whisky in Australia is already guaranteed via a Certification Trademark registered in 2014, and by consumer protection legislation to prevent the sale of any product being passed off as Scotch.”

“We would welcome any further measures that would make it easier to protect the reputation and rights of Scotch Whisky in Australia and around the world.”

'No commitment' made yet

The Australian government emphasises that it has ‘made no commitment to protect EU GIs’, but it has committed to engage with the EU on its GI interests as part of negotiations. As part of this, the Australian government has published the EU’s list of GIs for public comment.

“The Government will continue to consult closely with stakeholders on the issue of GIs,"​ says Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "The public objections process is your opportunity to advise the Government formally of any concerns you may have regarding the protection of individual EU GI names. 

“Decisions on EU GIs that will be protected by Australia will be taken by the Government at a later point in the FTA negotiations. Any commitments on GIs in the FTA will depend on the overall outcomes the EU is prepared to offer Australia, including with regard to market access.”

The Australian government's consultation can be found here;​ and the full list of spirits with GIs from the EU can be found here.​ The deadline for responses is 13 November.

Australia has not yet decided whether to propose a list of Australian GIs through the negotiations, but invites producers who would be interested in having GI protection in the EU to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). 

Australia-EU free trade agreeement

Australia and the European Union launched negotiations for a free trade agreement in June 2018.

As a bloc, the EU is Australia's second largest trading partner, and third largest export destination. 

Two way trade was worth around $109bn in 2018.

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