In an effort to promote farm products branding, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to legislate protection of geographic indications by submitting a bill to the ordinary Diet session which will begin on January 24.
The bill, if passed in the Diet, will enable the government to establish quality standards for goods, including their manufacturing method, which have characteristics associated with particular regions, and set up a third-party institution to certify products under the standards. The government aims to control fake products, as well as taking measures against food misrepresentation cases which occurred at major hotels, restaurants and department stores last year.
The planned geographic indication system is similar to the one implemented by the European Union, which has many regions known for traditional specialties. EU allows the use of geographical names and certification logos in the market only for products which meet the standards in terms of quality and manufacturing method originating in the regions, such as Parma ham from the Parma region of Italy.
The new scheme will be applied to agricultural and forest products, and the quality standard for each product will be decided by each producing area. A third-party institution will verify whether the products meet the standards.
A similar scheme to promote local specialties, named the regional organizations’ trademark system, already exists, in which the organizations set their own quality standards to certify products as authentic, but the system is a voluntary effort and fraudulent uses of the trademarks are not subject to punishment.
Under the existing scheme, those who want to use the trademarks must join regional organizations which own the brands, but the planned geographical indication system will allow anyone to identify products as originating in particular regions if they meet the quality standards.
It is difficult to file an action against counterfeits under the regional organizations’ trademark system, but the new geographical indication system will have strict control over fake products to protect local brands.
The EU has been calling on Japan to strengthen protection of geographical indications in the bilateral negotiations on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The issue is also put on the negotiation table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, but since the United States which leads the TPP negotiations is not a major proponent of geographical indications, Japan’s moves could influence the course of the future negotiations.
(Jan. 15, 2014)