Issue 124 | October 20, 2003
WTO to Settle Geographical Indications Dispute
 On October 2, 2003, the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization agreed to establish a panel that will examine European Community rules on the protection of trademarks and geographical indications for agricultural products and foodstuffs as requested by the United States and Australia on August 19, 2003.

As reported in Issue 97 of these updates, EC Regulation 2081/92 limits registration of geographical indications to goods which originate in the European Union. In its request, the US complained that this regulation does not allow for the registration of non-EC geographical indications unless that indication was from a country that offers protection that is equivalent to that of the EC. Australia complained that the EC regime is inconsistent with existing WTO rules prohibiting discriminatory treatment, does not give due protection to trademarks, and is overly complex and prescriptive. More specifically, they each contend that the European regulation is inconsistent with Articles 3 and 4 of the TRIPS Agreement on National and Most-Favored-Nation treatment being equal between WTO member countries.

The "Dispute Settlement Understanding" is the main WTO agreement for resolving such disputes. Under the DSU procedures, any dispute that is not settled through consultations (i.e., bilateral negotiations) requires the establishment of a panel consisting of three to five experts from countries that are not party to the dispute. Within six months of establishment, the panel is required to complete a report that is then automatically adopted by WTO members unless, within sixty days they decide by consensus not to adopt the report, or one of the parties provide notification of its intention to appeal. Any such appeals must then be decided within another sixty to ninety days. The losing country must then follow the recommendations of the panel or appeals reports. If they fail to act within a certain period of time, the loser must then enter into negotiations with the complaining country in order to determine mutually-acceptable compensation, such as tariff reductions in areas of particular interest to the complaining side. If no satisfactory compensation can be agreed to, the complaining side may then ask the Dispute Settlement Body for permission to impose trade sanctions, such as suspension of concessions or obligations, to the losing country. Although the panel process and appeal take only about 15 months to complete, the disputing countries must still agree on a time period for implementing a solution that can be just as long.

The proceedings entitled "European Communities - Protection of Trademarks and Geographical Indications for Agricultural Products and Foodstuffs" have been assigned "document symbols" DS174 and DS290 for searching at http://docsonline.wto.org/gen_search.asp
. Please send your thoughts on this dispute to the author of this update, Bill Heinze (bill.heinze@tkhr.com), at Thomas, Kayden, Horstemeyer & Risley in Atlanta, Georgia USA.

The information contained in this email is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent legal advice. Neither the APLF nor the author intends to create an attorney client relationship by providing this information to you through this message.