Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

Ambassador Chak Mun See (Singapore)
106. The representative of Australia expressed her delegation's appreciation to the sponsors of document IP/C/W/247 for providing a means of moving the discussions forward. Since her delegation had only recently received the paper, it had not had a full opportunity to review it and would provide more detailed comments at a later time. She said that the paper raised some underlying issues concerning geographical indication protection and the need for Members to have regard to the goals and objectives of the Agreement and geographical indication protection in these discussions. In her delegation's view, the proposal highlighted the real and urgent need for countries to approach the review under Article 24.2 in a logical and systematic way so as to examine crucial issues, such as the need to consider underlying interests at stake, the need to strike an appropriate balance and the need to fully understand the implications of geographical indication protection and any changes to existing provisions, before concluding that the current levels of protection were inadequate and required re writing of existing treaty language. Australia recognized very well the importance of geographical indications to many Members, as its own paper (document IP/C/W/211) showed when reflecting the fact that many economies had a strong interest in maintaining and increasing the added value to their exports that could be obtained through the distinctive and appealing presentation of goods. These concerns were, however, more effectively dealt with in the comprehensive review under Article 24.2, so that Members could assess the practical effect of TRIPS treaty language and the practical benefits that the TRIPS Agreement provided as a clear basis for discussions of better geographical indication protection within the TRIPS Agreement. The debate should not be caught up in the issue of levels of protection for various categories of goods, but should centre on the ways to achieve the most effective level of protection. Australia agreed that the protection provided to geographical indications under the TRIPS Agreement had to be consistent with the goals and objectives of the Agreement, but disagreed with the suggestion in paragraph 2 of document IP/C/W/247 that the extension of geographical indication protection currently available for wines and spirits to a uniform level of protection for geographical indications was necessary for Part II, Section 3 of the Agreement to accord with the goals of the TRIPS Agreement and general WTO principles. The TRIPS Agreement included the objective that the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights should contribute to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner that was conducive to social and economic welfare and to a balance of rights and obligations. Document IP/C/W/247 failed to discuss how an appropriate balance of interests would be guaranteed if extension of scope were agreed. The paper discussed in detail the purported benefits of increased protection, but failed to mention any of the costs and other downsides that would be likely to be associated with increased protection. She reiterated her delegation's interpretation of Article 24.1, that Members agreed to enter into bilateral or multilateral negotiations with a view to agreeing to strengthen the protection of individual geographical indications for a wine or a spirit under Article 23. Such strengthening could occur if a Member agreed to waive the application of an exception as contained in Article 24.4 through 24.8 with respect to one or more individual geographical indications. This interpretation was not only consistent with the wording of Article 24.1 itself, but also with the push made by the European Communities, as the prime demandeur for geographical indication protection during the Uruguay Round negotiations, for geographical indications for wines and spirits to be accorded a special status. Australia did not see how the reference to the word "individual" in Article 24.1 could possibly be read to mean "all non-wine and spirit" geographical indications. With regard to the words "individual" and "bilateral and multilateral agreements" in Article 24.1, the increased protection was intended to be achieved through agreements that were separate from the TRIPS Agreement. It was unlikely that the Uruguay Round negotiators had intended a specific list of individual geographical indications to be incorporated into the text of the TRIPS Agreement itself as a specific set of obligations. Australia had not been a demandeur of increased protection for geographical indications for wines and spirits during the Uruguay Round and acceptance of Article 23 had been a concession on its part, rather than a demand it had made to others. She questioned the assertion in paragraph 8 of document IP/C/W/247 that an extension of geographical indication protection had an overall positive effect on market access issues. The grant of exclusive rights to a particular term was in itself an exclusion of other Members' ability to enjoy those rights. Many developing countries were actively developing and diversifying competitive export industries in key sectors such as dairy, beer and horticultural products, making extensive use of the varied generic descriptive terms that were threatened by the proposal to extend Article 23 level protection to all products. She referred to the specific examples she had given at the previous meeting of the Council. Returning to Article 24.1's clear and unambiguous reference to "individual geographical indications", she wondered on what basis the supporters of an extension of the higher level of protection to other products than wines and spirits would identify these individual geographical indications and how they would actually be protected.
TN/C/W/52; TN/C/W/50; TN/IP/18