Geographical Indications (GIs) serve as powerful tools to protect local products from domestic as well as international competitors, by guaranteeing their quality and origin. While their legal justification has been subject of much debate, South East Asian nations have decided to use them as tools of their economic expansion efforts.
In Laos, “Geographical Indications Week” organized by the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Science and Technology was held on 24th-28th October. This event aimed to raise awareness of GIs, and to promote the opportunities they represent for Laotian producers. Until today no GI has ever been registered in Laos. Dr. Keobounphanh, Director of the IP Department, stated that Bolaven coffee, Khao Kai Noy rice and Phongsaly tea should be the first Lao products to seek GI registration.
It seems that Laos has been trailing behind its neighbors. Indeed, ASEAN has been the most prolific region in the world in terms of GI registrations: over 150 were registered in the past decade. Thailand has already registered GIs for 71 of its domestic products. This follows the authorities’ desire to implement the “one province, on GI” scheme whereby each of the 77 provinces in the country should have at least one Geographical Indication attached to it. A “GI Market, organized last year, similarly to Lao’s “GI Week”, aimed to encourage producers to apply for the certification in order to ensure greater recognition. Recently two more products were added to the list: Pla Kulao Khem Tak Bai fish and Phon Yang Kham beef. In addition, Sung Yod rice recently was awarded the certification by the European Union, increasing its potential of exportation for the European market. Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn has stated that the Thai Intellectual Property Department would seek the EU accreditation for more domestic products.
The Vietnamese authorities succeeded in doing exactly where Thailand is aiming. In negotiating the Free Trade Agreement with the EU which will come into effect in 2018, Vietnam proposed a list of its 41 domestic GIs of which the EU agreed to protect 39 in its market. Provided Vietnam succeeds in establishing a systematic quality product check, and reduces the circulation of counterfeits and imitation goods in its domestic market, this clause undoubtedly will be of great help to Vietnamese products trying to enter the EU market.