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Editorial Articles


Issue no 06, 06-12 May 2023

GI Tagged Products: Unleashing the Economic Potential of India's Collective Heritage

Advitya Bahl

India, the nation takes great pride in its rich cultural and traditional heritage, which is reflected in its diverse range of unique products. In recent years, the Government of India has been steadfast in its efforts to acquire Geographical Indication (GI) tags for distinctive products belonging to every nook and corner of the country, a testament to its unwavering commitment to preserving and promoting India's rich cultural heritage. As consumer trends worldwide indicate that there is great demand for authentic, place-specific items, India's push for GI tags for its products is a strategic move towards leveraging this potential and establishing itself as a leading exporter of superior, one-of-a-kind goods

What is Geographical Indication (GI)?

"Geographical indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production," according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Geographical indications are widely recognised as a vital component of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), as affirmed by Articles 1(2) and 10 of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, as well as the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPRs) under Articles 22 to 24.

 

Basic Utility of GI Tags: Geographic indications serve as a valuable tool for identifying agricultural, natural, or manufactured goods that originate from a specific geographic area. These products acquire a unique reputation in the market, borne out of the combined efforts of nature and human ingenuity, developed over a significant period of time in history. However, there are instances where unscrupulous traders pass off goods from other sources as genuine products from a specific region. This practice is not only an affront to the artisans who have honed their skills in cultivating or manufacturing these authentic goods, but also to the consumers who have come to trust and appreciate the quality and authenticity of such goods. To curb such malpractices, a number of regulations have been established at both the international and national levels. These regulations aim to safeguard the unique identities of products, preserve their quality, and promote their recognition and appreciation within the global community while protecting the interests of producers and consumers alike.

Benefits of GI

·         Intellectual Property Rights Protection: GI tagging provides legal protection to the producers of the product, preventing others from using the name or reputation of the product without permission. This can help to prevent counterfeiting and piracy, which can harm the reputation of the product and the local economy. By protecting the intellectual property rights of producers, GI tagging ensures that they receive fair compensation for their efforts and investments in creating unique and high-quality products.

·         Brand Equity: The objective of Geographic Indications, the indigenous know-how of local communities, is to create a visibility and thereby create a premium pricing for the goods protected as GIs. The communities are expected to leverage from this commercial edge over non-GI products and create their own brand equity for local products

·         Increased Market Value: GI tagging enhances the market value of products by providing consumers with a guarantee of authenticity and quality. This can lead to increased demand for the product, resulting in higher prices and profitability for producers

·         Protecting Cultural Heritage, Facilitating Sustainable Rural Development: GI tagging can help to promote rural development by encouraging the use of traditional production methods and supporting local communities. This can lead to increased employment opportunities and income for rural producers while promoting sustainable development.

·         Protection of Biodiversity: GI tagging can help to protect biodiversity by promoting the use of traditional farming practices and preserving local ecosystems. This can lead to the conservation of rare and endangered species, as well as the protection of natural resources and landscapes.

Role of GI in Promoting Tourism

It is widely acknowledged by experts that Geographical Indications play an indispensable role in bolstering tourism. A prime example of this is Kerala, which attracts a vast number of tourists from both within and outside India due to the unique products and experiences it has to offer. Visitors to Kerala are assured of obtaining original, high-quality GI-tagged products such as spices, handicrafts, and fabrics, which only adds to the appeal of this popular holiday destination. Taking cue from Kerala, many states governments are collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, to create packages for visiting destinations that are home to GIaccredited products. Additionally, several state governments are setting up GI kiosks at railway stations and airports to display and sell GI products, thereby giving a further impetus to the promotion of GI-tagged items and the tourism industry. Moreover, during the recently concluded Budget session of Parliament, Union Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman announced that 50 tourist destinations will be selected through challenge mode to be developed as a whole package for domestic and international tourism. As part of this initiative, states will be encouraged to set up a 'Unity Mall' in the state capital or the most popular tourist destination in the state for the promotion and sale of 'One District, One Product' and GI products and other handicrafts. Clearly, such efforts are poised to bolster the economy and enhance the image of India as a destination for quality products and unique experiences.

 

Schemes and Initiatives for Promotion of GI: India, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999, that came into force with effect from 15th September 2003. Darjeeling Tea was the first Indian product to get the GI tag. As on December 2022, India has registered over 432 GIs, including famous products like Basmati Rice, Mysore Silk, Kanchipuram Silk Sarees, Bikaneri Bhujia, Kolhapuri Chappal etc. These products have gained recognition and popularity not only in different corners of the country but also around the world. The government has launched various schemes and programs to encourage the production and marketing of products worthy of GI tagging. The most significant of those schemes are:

 

Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries (SFURTI) : The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) has made commendable initiatives under SFURTI in organising traditional industries and artisans into clusters to make them competitive and provide support for their longterm sustainability. The scheme aims to provide sustained employment for traditional industry artisans and rural entrepreneurs while enhancing the marketability of products of such clusters by providing support for new products, design intervention, and improved packaging. The focus has been on equipping traditional artisans of the associated clusters with improved skills and capabilities through training and exposure visits. The provision of common facilities and improved tools and equipment for artisans is another laudable initiative being undertaken under this scheme. The common facilities provide support for the registration and protection of Geographical Indications for traditional products. By promoting the use of modern technology in traditional industries, the scheme has set the ball rolling for sustainable linkages between traditional industries and markets. In the long run, these initiatives would create opportunities for the development of new products and designs in traditional industries, and with the right marketing support and assistance, local industries can churn out more GI Tag-worthy products.

 

One District One Product : India's One District One Product (ODOP) programme is an initiative aimed at promoting traditional and indigenous products from each district of the country. The scheme is designed to provide support to local artisans, entrepreneurs, and producers in developing and marketing their products. Furthermore, the ODOP is in conjunction with the mission to reach out to the unpenetrated areas in states and identify products that qualify for a GI tag. The ODOP scheme has helped increase the domestic as well as global demand for such products by promoting them as unique and high-quality items.

Aligned with the objectives of Atmanirbhar Bharat, the scheme has helped immensely in removing export bottlenecks by developing export value chains, reducing logistics costs, and enabling Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to export as a part of a cluster/group.

 

Open Network for Digital Commerce: India's Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) has the potential to become a thriving marketplace for the ODOP scheme, which partly mandates promotion of unique products that have been granted Geographical Indication (GI) tags. With the launch of the Open Network for Digital Commerce, these products can be seamlessly connected with potential buyers and customers from across the country and beyond. The digital platform can help to create a level playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises, enabling them to access a wider market and realise the full potential of their products. By leveraging the power of digital technology, the ODOP scheme can not only promote the economic growth of individual districts, but also contribute to the larger goal of boosting India's export potential and establishing itself as a leading exporter of high-quality, region-specific products. Though currently in its nascent stage, ONDC has the potential to serve as a game-changer for India's unique products, unlocking new opportunities for growth and development for traditional industries.

 

Unleashing Export Potential of GI Products: During FY 2023, India's exports recorded an all time high of US$750 billion, compared to US$500 billion the previous year. Undoubtedly, the Government of India has undertaken a multitude of initiatives over the years to elevate the nation's exports to such unprecedented heights. These initiatives encompassed the introduction of policies, provision of incentives for manufacturing, relaxation of export procedures, and various other measures aimed at boosting exports. However, the government has not rested on its laurels and has recently taken further steps to enhance exports, such as the certification of highquality agricultural products with their respective geographical indications. Undeniably, this is a commendable stride in the direction of improving exports, and it is poised to yield significant dividends for the Indian economy. Under the Districts Export Action Plans, products and services (including GI products, agricultural clusters, toy clusters etc.) with export potential are identified in all districts of the country. Robust export plans are prepared for identified products and services for overseas markets, which includes specific actions required to support local exporters/manufacturers in producing/ manufacturing identified products in adequate quantity and requisite quality, for reaching potential buyers outside India. These plans also include identifying and addressing challenges for exports of such identified products/ services, improving supply chains, market accessibility and handholding for increasing exports.

 

·         The Government of India has set up a dedicated office by the name of Intellectual Property - India for the registration and protection of GIs, which operates under the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) provides insights for producers on the benefits of GI tagging and lends guidance and support in the registration of unique products. The office also helps to ensure that the legal framework for the protection of GIs is robust and effective.

·         Various export promotion bodies have been mandated with the responsibility of exploring markets for GI tagged products. The bodies include the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Export Promotion Councils (EPCs) and other export bodies such as Commodity Boards, Export Development Authorities, the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), and Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)

·         Over the last few years, the Government of India has taken additional measures to promote and market GI tagged products. The initiatives include virtual buyer-seller meets on agricultural and food products GI with countries like the UAE, USA, and Qatar in association with the Indian Missions.

·         APEDA has been facilitating the export of GI food and agricultural products to different destinations, including Naga Mircha (King Chilli) from Nagaland to the UK, Black Rice from Manipur to the UK, Assam Lemon to the UK and Italy, and three GI varieties of Mango (Fazli, Khirsapati, and Laxmanbhog) from West Bengal and one GI variety of Mango (Zardalu) from Bihar to Bahrain and Qatar. APEDA also organises in-store promotional programmes in importing countries in association with foreign retailers to enhance exports

·         The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) organises the "India Geographical Indications (GI) Fair" every year through the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) to promote GI products in India and abroad. DPIIT also sets up pavilion for GI products in the India International Trade Fair (IITF), Delhi, and organises various GI Promotion Programmes/ Exhibitions/ Conferences/ Buyer Seller Meets/ Workshops with a focus on GI Products to boost their sales in India and abroad.

 

Conclusion: The government's initiatives have yielded significant results, with the number of GI registrations in India steadily increasing over the years. As of 31st March 2023, a total of 465 Indian products enjoyed GI protection. This number is expected to grow as more producers become aware of the benefits of GI and the government continues to promote and support the registration process. India's rich tapestry of traditions, cultures, and natural resources is evident in the country's artisanal handicrafts and agricultural commodities. With vast agricultural resources yielding a variety of fruits and crops every season, each Indian state boasts its own unique variations of crops and fruits. Geographical Indications have emerged as an effective tool for protecting the legitimacy of agricultural products, handicrafts, and foodstuffs produced in India. As the importance of GI tags continues to grow, India is making significant efforts to enforce legal protection of Indian GI products. Institutions and agencies are devising effective marketing strategies to popularise GItagged products and promote the country's 'Aatma Nirbhar' and "Vocal for Local" missions. With a renewed focus on promoting and protecting the interests of Indian producers and consumers, the country is poised to reap significant dividends from its vast array of GI products. Indeed, India's efforts to safeguard the rights of GI stakeholders and promote the use of GI products have the potential to unlock new opportunities for economic growth and development, while also preserving the country's rich cultural heritage

 

(The author is a Delhi-based correspondent for a leading national daily. He can be reached aditya90.bahl@gmail.com)

 

Views expressed are personal.