The term ‘G.I.’ may, for some, conjure up that general nickname for soldiers of the United States Army popularised as ‘GI Joe’. However ‘GI’ - or Geographical Indication is also the name for the legal protection given to a product that authenticates the location it comes from and that it has been produced according to strict traditional methods. Scotch whisky, for example, can only be called Scotch if it is produced here in Scotland where similarly there are Geographical Indication (GI) protections for Stornoway Black Pudding and Arbroath Smokies.
Most recently in Scotland, Ayrshire Dunlop cheese has gained protected status as an authentic Scottish product. Originally made in the Ayrshire village of Dunlop in the 17th century the cheese is now set to be given, in Europe, the same GI protected status as the Cornish pasty and the Melton Mowbray pork pie.
These products are famous and have gained a hard-earned reputation of quality linked to a specific region and traditional methods and it is important that their names are protected and consumers certain that they come from this region and that the same quality standards have been met.
The European system for GIs on agricultural products has brought tangible benefits for Scottish producers and a quality guarantee for consumers. These are measures where the strength of the EU can give robust protection for authentic and traditional Scottish products abroad, boost production and protect Scottish jobs.
Alarmingly however only 15 of the EU’s 28 member states have specific national legislation on GI protection for non-agricultural products like marble, glass, and in Scotland’s case, tartan. For these products there are different degrees of protection across the various Member States. Clearly what is needed here is consistent protection at EU level similar to that given to food and drink.
In July last year I welcomed the launch of a consultation by the European Commission on the possible extension of geographical indication protection beyond food and drink to non-agricultural products and last month (September) the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted for a non-legislative resolution urging the Commission to proceed with this without delay. This resolution is now due to come before the entire Parliament in Strasbourg this month.
The aim will be to establish an efficient and working system to protect these products and their link with the region of production as well as their quality, authenticity and characteristics. In France, in certain sectors such as textiles, companies estimate that the protection of non-agricultural indications could lead to an increase of up to 25% in international demand and across the EU the European Commission has identified more than 800 products that are likely to benefit from it.
Genuine, traditional Scottish tartan should mean just that, not an imitation made elsewhere. EU-wide protected geographical indications can increase the attractiveness of a product for consumers, but they can also improve the image of the place of origin, promote tourism and foster the preservation of jobs in these places, often rural and suffering under present economic conditions.