Geographical Indications after Brexit: the impact on food names

How far will the UK go to protect food names when faced with competing trade pressures from the EU and US?

02 May 2019

What are Geographical Indications?

Geographical Indications (GIs) are used to designate products that originate from a specific area and possess certain qualities, characteristics or reputation due to their place of origin. They are typically used for food and drink products and includes things such as Scotch Whisky, the Cornish Pasty and the traditional Cumberland sausage.

Do GIs enhance or hamper trade?

GIs are protected in different countries in different ways and are often a hot topic when it comes to trade deals. Currently in the UK, the EU approves any GIs applied for from the UK, and the UK recognises all GIs granted by the EU. This is however set to change and, as the UK manoeuvres its exit from the EU and looks to negotiate trade deals with countries around the world, GIs may prove to be contentious. This because there is a significant cultural difference in attitudes on either side of the Atlantic towards GIs, and their impact on trade and value to producers and consumers. The EU favours GIs, seeing them as an important part of trade because they allow businesses to leverage the value of products and attract consumers. This can be contrasted with the more liberal US view where there is concern that excessive use of GIs is protectionist, inhibits trade and is costly to businesses.

Following Brexit, the EU will want to ensure that its existing protections are extended to the UK. However, other countries like the US will want to access the UK market with as little restriction as possible.

In a recent consultation by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the UK government recognised the economic and cultural importance of GIs as contributing to the strength of the UK’s global reputation for quality food and representing a £5billion export value to the UK each year.

What is the impact of Brexit?

Whether or not there is a deal with the EU, the UK will need to establish its own GI registration system after Brexit. 

Under the withdrawal agreement, the protection of EU GIs in the UK will continue without re-examination unless agreed otherwise as part of the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU. However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, whilst all existing UK products registered under the EU’s GI schemes would automatically get UK GI status, the UK would no longer be required to recognise EU GIs and EU producers would need to apply to the UK. 

As with everything Brexit related, there is a degree of uncertainty and GIs in particular may become an increasingly politically sensitive area when it comes intellectual property and future trade deals.

How can Burges Salmon help?

If you would like any further information on your intellectual property rights following Brexit or require specialist advice on food labelling, please contact Emily Roberts or Jeremy Dickerson in the IP team, or speak to Sian Edmunds, Head of Food and Drink.

Key contact

Jeremy Dickerson

Jeremy Dickerson Partner

  • Head of International 
  • Head of Intellectual Property, Media and Sport
  • Defamation and Reputation Management

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