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Rosogolla GI signifies a bitter world trade battle

26 Nov. 2017 11:46 PM IST

It is great news for West Bengal. It has won the paternity of India savoured sweet dish rosogolla’s geographical indication (GI). It may mean little for rest of India but may open up a war on the international arena marked by TRIPS, patents and GI.
Now it is to be seen how Bengal can lead the move to create an international rosogolla market with the new tag. It would require an aggressive campaign to sell the newly authenticated dish. 
That is the positive aspect of a simple tug of war between Odisha, which claimed rosogolla originated in Odisha at the central government’s patent office. Countering it Bengal went to Chennai-based GI registry to prove the sweet belongs to Bengal and was invented by famous sweetmeat seller Nabin Chandra Das in 1868.
Vacuum-canned Rosogolla is exported to the world from Kolkata, Nagpur and some even from Nepal. It earns millions of dollars – precious as export growth otherwise is stagnated in a critical world situation. 
There are many other dishes across the country which have and can claim such GI status. Karnataka’s Dharwar’s pedha, Andra Pradesh’ Tirupathi laddu, Rajasthan’s Bikaneri bhujia, Hyderabada Haleel, Bengal’s Joynagar moa and Madya Pradesh’ Ratlami sev have the GI tag.
Now as some other countries started selling their tea as Darjeeling tea, the GI tagging of Darjeeling and Kangra tea as agricultural products saved the Indian brands. 
Many agricultural products have got the tag.  It is stated that 79 farm items, including Basmati rice, chillies, orange/ mandarin types like Nagpur, Coorg, Khasi, Arunachal, a variety of bananas, spices, Tripura’s pineapple and Madurai Malli jasmine have the tag. Kolhapuri chappals, Kashmiri pashmina, Pochampalli saris also have it.
Does it help? It helps in maintaining the brand and locational value. The quality of Dehradun basmati rice and what Pakistan claims as basmati is different. The aroma is not the same. It was hitting Indian exports. Such tag helps keep the ownership as under WTO, trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), the member nations have respect geographical indications. 
But basmati war is on. After much negotiations, India and Pakistan decided to get a joint GI for basmati. The talks came to a halt after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Now Bangladesh also wants to share the tag. Meanwhile, some countries like The Philippines are selling their rice as basmati in EU and the US despite the fact that basmati is native to Indian sub-continent.
Measures have been taken to prevent violation of GI rights. The custom authorities have powers to seize bogus products. If a product enjoys GI status in a member nation, then no other member nation can grant trade mark for any other product of similar nature. Even Indian haldi (turmeric) said to have special therapeutic properties have benefited.
A variety of haldi from Kandhamal in Odisha has got a separate GI for its properties even as he battle for rosogolla continues.  The GI prevents counterfeiting and protects the original producers’ market.
For example, Darjeeling is given GI under Indian law. So if someone inside India is selling fake Darjeeling tea, he can be jailed or fined in India. But if a Sri Lankan exports fake Darjeeling tea to Germany, nothing can be done in India. For this a separate petition has to be filed in Germany or the central government has to pursue it through the WTO. To prevent such problem, a fresh move has to be made for GI status European Union’s office for “Protected GI” (PGI).
There is one problem. Once a GI is granted by a country, the WTO informs all member nations. But this has not been given the status of a registry. So it is treated as information but has not legal status. Multilateral registry is still not in vogue. So getting a GI in one country is not automatically protected across the world.
The multilateral registry is being insisted by EU. It would save duplication of efforts. But China and Hong Kong want this system to be compulsory for only those countries that agree to participate in it. It is stated that countries that are faking products are opposing one-registration across the world. It helps such countries export their products under false identity and rake in profits. 
To prevent them, or make them liable for legal offence, numerous registrations have to be done. It is expensive and time-consuming cumbersome process. The counterfeiters benefit for this legal loophole.
However, lobbies of different products are resorting to different methods. The powerful European wine and liquor business groups have managed to get WTO to negotiate for multilateral GI register for wine and liquor. It has helped them save their brands and even penetrated sales across the world, including India. 
The GI rights are given to an association of persons, producers, organisation as a community right. The concept is that such indications are not build up by one individual but by a community of persons. So the community, in the case of rosogolla, the product made in Bengal is protected. 
So if a saree made somewhere else is tried to be sold as Banarasi saree, it would be considered a violation of GI and would be considered punishable in India. But for any other country a separate process has to be adopted. 
There is an apprehension that powerful nations or lobbies can create fake identifications. If such are granted registration, it could create a chaos in the world trade system.
India had to fight in the US to get neem patents deregistered after a prolonged legal battle. Even on various agricultural issues the Doha agreement has yet to be agreed upon. Similarly there is yet no unanimity of non-agricultural market acess (NAMA).
There has also not been any agreement on a free market for the labour. 
There is another lacuna in the system. A GI is not a one-time achievement. It is valid for ten years and has to be renewed after that.
Despite WTO and globalization, the world is at war in the trade front. A nation has to be innovative and aggressive to save their brands to rake in the maximum profit. India has the advantage that its various scientific organisations like the CSIR, department of science and technology, industry, handicraft and agriculture are continuously making efforts to protect the heritage and cultural specifications. The war is not to end. The one who remains alert will win it.

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Shivaji Sarkar
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