Geographical Indications (GIs) identify agricultural products or foodstuffs that originate in a territory of a WTO Member where the quality, reputation or other characteristics of such product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

Geographical Indications are a divisive issue globally. European countries in particular favour strong GI protection; whereas, new world countries such as the USA and Australia point to existing trademark protection within their statutes and seek restricted GI protection to enable free competition and to preserve protection for existing trademarks.

Canada lies somewhere between.

Canada currently recognizes about 600 GI’s with respect to wines and spirits (with exceptions for generic names for certain spirits). Protected GI owners include for example: Institut National Des Appellations D’origine (INAO) (Paris, France); Deutscher Weinfonds (Mainz, Germany); Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario (Ontario, Canada); Consejo Regulador del Cava (Spain); Bureau National Interprofessional Du Cognac (France). Canada does not currently recognize any GIs outside of wines and spirits.

The EU in particular would like to see GI protection expanded. Hence, unsurprisingly, GIs figure prominently in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) being negotiated between Canada and the EU. If CETA comes into force, Canada has agreed that all types of food products proposed by the EU will be protected in Canada and that additional GIs can be added in the future.

The draft CETA text currently includes what the EU refers to as “protected Geographical Indications”, which include agricultural products and foodstuffs in which at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in a particular territory, as well as “Protected Designations of Origin”, which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know-how.

Thus for example, Canada will protect some cheeses, baked goods, olives, spices, processed vegetable products, fresh, frozen and processed meats, nuts, and so forth. This is a continuum “leap forward” for Canada. Undoubtedly such will make some Canadian trademark owners nervous. The Canadian negotiators must have recognized this as they inserted “partial exemptions” for certain names which conflict with brands/names already in use in Canada. Thus, certain EU GI names will coexist with existing trademarks. Depending upon the subject matter, coexistence may terminate after a transitional phase out period for the Canadian producer.

Many will be observing how this all plays out in the end for Canadian trademark owners.