Experiences in registering for geographical indication protection

Thursday, 2021-03-18 10:08:52
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Luc Ngan lychee of Bac Giang Province has been granted geographical indication protection in Japan.
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NDO – After nearly two years filing a dossier to register for protection of three Vietnamese geographical indications (GIs) (Luc Ngan lychee, Binh Thuan dragon fruit and Buon Ma Thuot coffee) in Japan, on March 12, 2021, Luc Ngan lychee became the first of them to have its GI protected in the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

This is the result of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on GIs between Vietnam and Japan by the National Office of Intellectual Property - NOIP (Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam) and the Food Industry Affairs Bureau - FIAB (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan).

After Luc Ngan lychee obtained a GI registration certificate from the NOIP in 2008, the value of Vietnamese lychee has increased and the fruit’s export market has been expanded as well, including in Japan. However, Vietnam’s export lychees suffered disadvantages as they had to bear the name of the supply units on the Japanese side during the consumption process. Therefore, by successfully acquiring GI protection in Japan, from now on, Luc Ngan lychee will bear a GI of “Luc Ngan lychee” on the products exported to Japan, leading to higher added value and greater opportunities to be trusted and chosen by consumers.

In addition, when bearing this GI in Japan, Vietnam’s lychee products will be protected by Japanese law and will not be requested by other parties to stop using the label, while preventing parties from using the same GI for duplicate, similar or related products. Moreover, by affirming its reputation in such a fastidious market as Japan, Luc Ngan lychee will have more opportunities to expand the consumption market in many other countries with strict import standards around the world. Whereas, despite its GI protection, the exports of Luc Ngan lychee to Japan still depend on the acceptance level of the market as well as the satisfaction of the country’s stringent regulations on food safety.

The process of registering for GI protection in Japan started from the building of product selection criteria, with the involvement of many agencies and local authorities. After a period of selecting and preparing dossiers, on June 3, 2019, Japan recorded applications registering for GI protection for three Vietnamese products - Buon Ma Thuot coffee, Luc Ngan lychee, and Binh Thuan dragon fruit. During the appraisal process, the FIAB established three GI survey teams in the corresponding provinces of Dak Lak, Bac Giang and Binh Thuan.

In fact, the registration time was prolonged due to many difficulties, such as the differences in GI protection laws between the two countries, the poor operability of the GI management organisations, and the lack of financial and other resources for the Production and Consumption Association of Luc Ngan Lychee. In particular, there were not many in-depth studies on Luc Ngan lychee, in conjunction with a lack of science-based documents on the properties of the product, thus response to requests from the Japanese side was slow. Furthermore, for a long time, most research on lychee trees in Vietnam has only focused on cultivation techniques, varieties, and preservation methods, with few deep studies on lychee fruit. Therefore, Vietnamese units stayed passive when the Japanese side proposed proving the scientific basis of the lychee’s rich sweetness and what factors constitute that sweetness (soil, climate, or production process). In addition, data on product characteristics was not regularly updated, while studies on natural geographic conditions remained fragmentary and inconsistent. Production activities sometimes did not conform to the stated production method in the registration dossier. To satisfy the requirements, the NOIP coordinated with Bac Giang’s Department of Science and Technology and the Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute to carry out many solutions, including conducting experiments to analyse the criteria as required by Japan and establishing a council of scientists to implement sensory analysis and make science-based conclusions.

The reality of registering for GI protection in Japan shows that the lack of scientific research and documents from the Production and Consumption Association of Luc Ngan Lychee, as well as the uneven and unorganised production practice, affected the process of bringing Vietnamese agricultural products to new markets, especially fastidious markets. Currently, the dossier for Binh Thuan dragon fruits is also being re-filed to continue registering for protection of its GI in Japan. Experiences learned from the registration of Luc Ngan lychee GI protection should promptly be disseminated to localities in order to make the best preparations for the exports of agricultural products.