Promoting the importance of geographical indicators in Myanmar

The Ministry of Science and Technology of the Union of Myanmar MOST), along with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) organized, on Monday 23rd of March, a seminar at the Strand Hotel on Geographical Indications (GIs). Let’s note, as a foreword, that Geographical Indications are defined by the article 22 of the TRIPs agreement (1994): “Geographical indications are (…) indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member (of WTO), or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin”. In other words, Geographical indications are about protecting the name of products with specific characteristics that are strongly linked to their area or origin. For example, it concerns products such as the French sparkling wine “Champagne”, the name “Champagne” being originally the name of the area located at the East of Paris where this wine comes from.

At least forty participants from several ministries and organisations attended the seminar. Green Lotus has had the chance to listen to two presentations made by Sébastien Bouvatier, Agricultural Counsellor for ASEAN countries from the French Embassy in Singapore, and Dr Hnin New Aye from the MOST as well as to meet with several individuals interested on Geographical Indications.

Sébastien Bouvatier presented the French Experience on GIs and the cooperation with Myanmar. During its presentation, the Agricultural Counsellor for ASEAN countries highlighted the fact that GIs have an important role to play in Myanmar and are taken into consideration since over a century in countries such as France, making the latter an example for any country willing to implement policies on GIs.

According to Sébastien Bouvatier, GIs are, overall, an economic tool promoted by the economic stakeholders themselves. The example of France gives us a lot of information on the benefits of GIs for the producers, the consumers and the whole supply chain. In general, GIs increase the added value of the products and the consumers are very often willing to pay more for GIs products. Of course it requires that public authorities play a key role by passing law and regulations enabling the creation of GIs and by creating institutions in charge of their implementation. The control of GIs is important since it is a promise made to the consumers on the quality of the product. A public body is, in France, in charge of the regulation of GIs: the INAO. Its role is even more important while considering the fact that GIs represented a turn over of 21 billions € every year in France, involving 1 farmers out of 4.

France is very active on the promotion of GIs in South-East Asia due to its experience. Close to 700 GIs are already registered in France, making it the first country around the world in terms of economic importance of GIs. In Myanmar, the French cooperation mainly consists of technical assistance, notably regarding the formulation of a GI regulatory framework. Trainings have been organized (InterGI trainings co-organized with Switzerland), recommendations on regulations and awareness rising events have been implemented. A special emphasis has been made on the importance of going fast on GIs’ regulation. In addition A study will be implemented in the coming months under the supervision of MOST to identify products eligible as future GIs in Myanmar, with the financial support of the French Development Agency (AFD). This study is planned to start by May-June and will establish a short list of 3-4 priority potential GIs . They will serve as first examples and hopefully first economic successes, creating a strong incentive to develop additional GIs for other Myanmar products.

Dr Hnin New Aye presented the work of MOST on GIs regulation as well as the fact that a draft of a Trademark Law and of a GIs Law is under preparation by the ministry. Currently, there is no law that protect GIs in Myanmar but there is a growing interest in this matter since it represents a really strong opportunity to spread Myanmar’s know-how, and unique natural wealth to other countries and consumers from other places.

De facto, Green Lotus believes that is it important for Myanmar to adopt a strong regulation and relevant policies on GIs. Moreover, the development of GIs can also be seen as an opportunity for CSOs to show their importance and their capacity to effectively help the country’s development. Green Lotus calls the CSOs to mobilize themselves in order to help spotting and protecting GIs in order for the country to protect its wealth.