02 October 2018
Update on 23 January 2019: Since this article was published, the UK Government has consulted on its proposals for a post-Brexit UK Geographical Indications scheme (4 October to 1 November). Consultation responses are currently being considered.
Premium Welsh food products might not have automatic protection against imitation in the EU after Brexit.
Some of Wales’ best known food and drink products – including Welsh lamb, Anglesey Sea Salt and traditional Caerphilly cheese – are currently protected in the EU because they have EU Geographical Indication (GI) status. However, the UK Government is proposing a separate UK scheme once we leave the EU.
Under the proposals, all existing UK GI products will be given new UK GI status automatically, but as things stand producers would need to reapply for GI status in the EU.
What are Geographical Indications?
The purpose of the EU’s protected food names scheme is to give legal protection against imitation of registered regional and traditional food and drink throughout the EU.
The aim is to secure a fair return for farmers and producers for the qualities and characteristics of a given product, and to enable consumers to make informed purchasing choices.
The scheme includes three different EU product quality indicators: Protected Geographical Indicators (PGI); Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). These three indicators are often collectively known as GIs.
Products from outside the EU can also be granted GI status.
How much are Geographical Indications worth?
It’s difficult to know for sure. A report commissioned by the Welsh Government published in 2015 (PDF 745KB) found that Welsh lamb exports had increased significantly after gaining GI status. Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) suggested that 25% of the growth in lamb exports between 2003 and 2012 was directly attributable to the GI status of Welsh lamb.
A European Commission study in 2012 calculated an average value premium rate for GI products in the EU at 1.55. This means that GI products were sold for 1.55 times as much as non-GI products for the same volume.
The European Commission has also said that in 2010 the total sales value of GIs was €54.3 billion, representing 6% of the EU agri-food and drink sector.
What is the UK Government proposing?
The UK Government set out proposals for the new UK scheme in its White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
More detail is provided in a UK no-deal Brexit notice published on 24 September. The notice states that:
- The UK will establish its own scheme which will “broadly mirror” the EU scheme and “be no more burdensome to producers”;
- A consultation process will explore a UK GI logo and an appeals process;
- The protections provided by the new scheme will be similar to those enjoyed now by UK GI producers, with all 86 UK GIs given new UK GI status automatically;
- The UK would no longer be required to recognise EU GI status;
- EU producers would be able to apply for UK GI status; and
- Guidance on the UK GI schemes will be published in early 2019.
The UK Government anticipates that all current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes after Brexit. However the notice suggests that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK producers of GI products should consider:
- Using the new UK logo on products marketed in the UK; and
- Applying for GI status in the EU, or other steps to protect product integrity, such as applying for trade mark protection.
The proposals for a UK GI logo may prove contentious for some in Wales given comments around the branding of the food hall at the Royal Welsh Show earlier this year. The food hall has traditionally been branded as “Welsh” whereas this year it was branded as “British” as part of the UK Government’s GREAT Britain promotional campaign.
What are no-deal Brexit notices?
The UK Government has published three tranches of notices intended to help businesses and the public prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
What is the EU’s view on Geographical Indications?
The EU and the UK don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to GIs. While the UK is preparing for a standalone scheme which will be open to applications from EU producers, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in August that:
Brexit should not lead to a loss of existing intellectual property rights. We must protect the entire stock of geographical indications.
He also said the that the future of GIs must be clarified in the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement.
What does the food industry say?
Evidence submitted to the Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee’s Rethinking Food Inquiry shows the industry is concerned about the future status of current GI products after Brexit. Submissions emphasise the value of EU GI status in marketing quality Welsh products globally.
The Chair of the UK Protected Food Names Association, Matthew O’Callaghan, responded to the proposals for a UK scheme saying that the UK Government is working under the “false hope” that current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes after Brexit:
Why should they? If we won’t recognise the European products in the UK after Brexit, why should the EU continue protecting ours? …
And if the EU doesn’t recognise our products? – Well the ‘helpful’ advice from the Government is that we can all reapply to the EU again to protect our products under the EU scheme – a process which for the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie took 11 years and expensive appearances in both the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Or, continues the advice, we can go through the time consuming and extremely expensive option of using trade mark solicitors and securing trade mark certification for every single product in every single country – well beyond the means for micro GI producers such as Anglesey Sea Salt.
Any new scheme might aspire to have the same principles and same recognition as the current scheme, but it takes a while to achieve consumer awareness and recognition in the marketplace in Europe and that doesn’t happen over-night.
On the possibility of a new UK logo including the UK flag, he said:
It would be confusing and potentially negative. Recent research shows that the British proposition doesn’t achieve the same traction as the Welsh proposition in countries like France, Germany and Italy, for example.
What does the Welsh Government say?
The Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths has expressed her preference for Welsh food products be able to retain EU GI status after Brexit.
Given the UK Government believes GIs to be a reserved matter and is pushing ahead with its plans, the potential for the Welsh Government to influence the UK Government’s thinking in this area is looking increasingly limited.
What are the Welsh Geographical Indications?
There are 15 Welsh products currently registered under the EU’s scheme with two more awaiting approval. Those approved are:
- Welsh lamb PGI;
- Welsh beef PGI;
- Traditionally reared pedigree Welsh pork TSG;
- Pembrokeshire early potatoes PGI;
- Anglesey Sea Salt/Halen Môn PDO;
- Carmarthen ham PGI;
- Conwy mussels PDO;
- Traditional Welsh Caerphilly PGI;
- Welsh laverbread PDO;
- Welsh regional wine PGI;
- Welsh wine PDO;
- West Wales coracle caught salmon PGI;
- West Wales coracle caught sewin PGI;
- Traditional Welsh cider PGI; and
- Traditional Welsh perry PGI,
Those awaiting approval are Cambrian Mountains lamb and Vale of Clwyd Denbigh plum.
Article by Elfyn Henderson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service