Exploring the Economic Rationale for Protecting Geographical Indicators in Agriculture
The misappropriation of the names of geographical regions such as Parma, Roquefort and Champagne is protected in the European Union by a system of Geographical Indications, and is acknowledged by the World Trade Organization as an important intellectual property right. This article addresses whether there is a case for similar protection in South Africa. The article explores the economic rationale for implementing a system of Geographical Indications by addressing issues such as information asymmetry and the role of reputation; formation of niche markets; monopoly formation, value added and rural development. The economic rationale for protecting Geographical Indications derives mainly from the fact that place of origin may be used as a quality signal, or alternatively, that the resources of the region may be captured as quality attributes. In the first instance the meaning of the geographical name is emphasized in order to reduce information asymmetries. Where place of origin is used as an attribute, resources of the region are used to increase the value of the product. This includes specific resources such as production techniques, varieties and species, but also resources that are general to the region such as landscape, environment and culture. Economic arguments present a strong justification for the introduction of geographical indications in South Africa. At the same time it will afford greater protection to indigenous resources and geographical names which could, through the collective and inclusive nature of the system, directly contribute to rural development.
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