Rooibos protected in EU trade pact

Generic file photo
Generic file photo

Rooibos tea has secured geographic indicator status in the long-awaited economic partnership agreement between southern African nations and the European Union, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Monday.

"It will be the rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa which will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products that come from and are approved by us," he said.

Davies termed the designation significant, given the widespread popularity Rooibos had acquired in Europe in recent years.

Last year, the SA Rooibos Council hurriedly managed to stop an attempt by a French company - the Compagnie de Trucy -- to trademark the name, fearing that it could secure exclusive use.

The same trademark protection given to rooibos will apply to honeybush, another tea grown exclusively in the Cape region, and Karoo lamb -meaning that only products produced in those areas can be marketed under those trade names.

In turn South Africa was forced to make a concession on feta cheese, which has been a so-called protected designation of origin product in the European Union since 2002.

Davies said once the agreement was in place, existing local producers would be allowed to continue using the Greek name but new entrants into the market would be barred from doing so.

Geographic name protection has also been given to South African wines from a number of regions like Robertson, in the same manner that the French industry has trademarked its Bordeaux and Champagne domains.

Xavier Carim, deputy director-general for international trade, said Europe's motivation for protecting produce from a particular origin was essentially commercial and South Africa had realised that it too could secure higher prices for local produce under the same regime.

"We are beginning to see that there are benefits for our commercial farmers from specialised produce."

The trade pact will also see the volume of local wine that can be exported to Europe tariff-free every year increase from 47 million litres to 110 million litres.

Similarly, the EU has agreed that South Africa would be allowed to ship 150,000 tons of sugar to Europe tariff-free every year in what could prove a considerable boon for local producers given the higher going rate in Europe.

Carim told reporters: "Currently, South Africa is effectively excluded from the European Union for sugar exports... because of the very high tariffs that they apply.

"With 150,000 tonnes - I expect South African producers can easily take out that -- the advantage of the EU market is that it is twice the price you get from the world market, so there is a benefit there.

He said the South African wines would become more price competitive in Europe because of the tariff removal on another 63 million tonnes annually, though Davies tempered expectations by saying the impact for the local industry would depend on demand in a still-depressed EU market.

Carim revealed that the issue of protected appellations had played a key role in unblocking the negotiations on the economic partnership agreement which first began in 2004 but soon stalled for several years.

"One of the critical turning points in the negotiations was our agreement to include geographic indications as part of an overall agreement.

"This had been a long-standing demand of the EU and when we agreed that we would pursue a discussion on the basis of certain very clear principles, the negotiations started to move more constructively."

The deal was initialled in Pretoria last week.

Davies said the timing was significant because of the deadline of October 1 when Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland would have lost their preferential access to the EU market for beef, sugar and fish -- on which their economies depended heavily.

He said he was satisfied that South Africa had achieved its twin goals of maintaining a common external tariff for the Southern African Customs Union for EU products, and improving South Africa's access to the EU market beyond the terms of the existing trade and co-operation pact.

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