India can learn from China’s GI tag success story

Indian products with GI tag
Darjeeling Tea was the first Indian product to receive a GI tag.

India’s rich cultural heritage, tradition, and local wisdom offer unique products that possess immense economic potential. Geographical Indications tagging can be a powerful tool, not just to protect these treasures, but to unlock their economic potential. By recognising and safeguarding distinctive products, GI tagging presents a unique opportunity to create a brand identity, command premium prices, and empower local communities, ultimately contributing to a stronger, more vibrant Indian economy.

Intellectual property encompasses creations of the human mind, including inventions, innovations, literary and artistic works, symbols, images, and designs used in commerce. It is broadly categorised into two areas: Industrial property which includes patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications (GIs), and copyrights, covering literary and artistic works such as novels, poems, plays, films, music, paintings, photographs, sculptures, performing arts, and computer programming.

Geographical Indications (GIs) signify products that originate from a specific geographical area, possessing qualities, reputation, or characteristics inherently linked to their place of origin. Unlike trademarks, which allow the owner to exclude others from use, GIs simply indicate that a product comes from a particular place and possesses certain attributes due to its geographical origin. The primary function of a GI is to signal the connection between the quality, characteristics, or reputation of goods and their territory of origin. Internationally recognised GIs include Café de Colombia, Bordeaux wines, Scotch whisky, and Kampot pepper.

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In India, Darjeeling Tea was the first product to receive a GI tag in 2004-2005. The GI tag is increasingly applied to agricultural or food products closely associated with nature and their place of origin. However, in the manufacturing sector, specific product qualities derive from traditional manufacturing skills, local knowledge, and natural resources, as seen in products like Kilim Carpets from Turkey and Swiss Watches. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, there were an estimated 58,400 GI tags as of 2022, with China, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and Moldova leading in registrations.

The Geographical Indications Registry in India, established on September 15, 2003, in Chennai, seeks to provide registration and protection for geographical indications. As of June 7, 2023, India had 500 GI tags across various states. These tags not only represent specific regions and products but also bring them to public attention. For instance, the GI tag for Nagpur oranges has benefited farmers, while the tag for Tirupati Laddu has increased its fame. Any trader’s body, association, or organisation can apply for a GI tag, provided they can prove the item’s uniqueness with historical records and a detailed product breakdown.

India has been proactive in leveraging GI tags not only to safeguard its rich cultural heritage but also to carve a niche in the global market. Recognising the potential of GI tags as economic catalysts, the government, in collaboration with local industries and artisans, has initiated various programmes aimed at promoting GI-tagged products both domestically and internationally. These efforts include marketing campaigns, participation in international trade fairs, and the establishment of GI-specific retail outlets.

Such initiatives serve dual purposes: they enhance the visibility and demand for these unique products, and they also educate consumers about the authenticity and heritage of GI-tagged items. This strategy has not only increased the income of local producers but has also contributed to the preservation of traditional crafts and practices that are at risk of fading in the face of globalisation.

India can take inspiration from China which has managed to harnessed the power of GI tags to boost its economy, particularly in the agriculture and food sectors. By registering a significant number of GI products, China has managed to secure premium pricing for its goods on the international stage.

The country’s strategic approach includes stringent quality control measures, extensive research and development to improve product standards, and aggressive international marketing. These efforts have led to increased recognition of Chinese GI products globally, enhancing their competitiveness and contributing significantly to rural development and economic growth. China’s success story with GI tags underscores the importance of a well-structured framework and government support in maximising the economic potential of geographical indications.

Tamil Nadu leads Indian states with the highest number of GI tags, including Kanchipuram Sarees, Dindigul locks, and Tanjore paintings, highlighting the unique cultural richness of each state. GI tags serve multiple purposes: they protect the designation of origin, ensure the relationship between products and their geographical areas, enhance product identity, support local production sustainability, enable communities to receive higher retail prices, prevent product duplication, and maintain quality for consumers.

GIs also promote tourism by preserving natural resources and traditional knowledge, thereby boosting regional economies. With increasing tourism and infrastructure development, the popularity of GI-tagged products has risen, encouraging more entrepreneurs to register new GIs, further enriching the cultural and economic landscape.