TRIPS Council Debates Way Forward

27 May 2009

An informal meeting of the WTO committee on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) was urged to move on from broad discussions to tackle the ‘substantive' issues at issue in the talks. The chair of the talks, Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados, warned delegates that they should not be complacent in the talks.

The issue at hand is the establishment of a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits, a matter that delegates have been debating for more than a decade.

Geographical indications, or GIs, as defined in the WTO TRIPs Agreement, are place names that are used to identify products that originate in those places and whose quality, reputation or some other characteristic is essentially attributable to that region. (Examples include Champagne, Parma ham, and Gruyère cheese.) In the debates over the establishment of a multilateral register for GIs, delegates have clashed over a number of issues, including whether participation in the system should be mandatory, and whether Members should be allowed to challenge proposed registrations.

Last summer, a coalition of more than 100 Members, including the EU, India, Brazil and Switzerland, put forward a set of ‘draft modalities' - the broad outlines of a deal - for the TRIPS discussions, including the multilateral register (see Bridges Weekly, 23 July 2008, http://www.ictsd.org/north-south-coalition-sets-out-‘draft-modalities’-on-trips). That proposal has been the subject of much discussion in the group since then.

With many the questions on that proposal now answered, delegates at last week's meeting turned to how the talks should move forward from here. Opponents of the ‘draft modalities' paper, which include Argentina, Australia, Canada, and the United States, maintained that the TRIPS group should spend its next formal meeting, which is scheduled for 10 June, conducting a question-and-answer session on their competing ‘Joint Proposal'.

But the EU opposed that suggestion, arguing that the ‘Joint Proposal' has remained largely unchanged since it was first put forward in 2002, and that delegates have had plenty of time to discuss it.

Clarke, the chair, urged the delegates to focus on the issues at hand. If the pace of the negotiations does not pick up soon, the TRIPS issues could be the limiting factor impeding the conclusion of the Doha Round, Clarke warned.

ICTSD reporting; "WTO's Lamy continues engagement on intellectual property issues," IP-WATCH, 14 May 2009.

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