Pakistan notifies GI Rules
28 January 2021
Ten months after the enactment of the Geographical Indications (GI) Act, 2020 in March, Pakistan finally notified its GI Rules, paving the way for the creation of a GI Registry in the country.
The government passed the local GI bill 10 years after it was first submitted to Parliament. However, a registration system had not been set up following the bill’s passage into law; until the European Commission published India’s application for a GI right over its basmati rice in the European Union on September 11, 2020.
In December, the Pakistani government opposed India’s application, arguing that the aromatic long-grained rice is also being produced in and exported by Pakistan. Thus, India cannot lay sole claim on the product by way of a GI right.
A rough edge in Pakistan’s opposition lay in the fact that the country did not have a mechanism for protecting its basmati rice within its borders since it did not have GI Rules in place. For a product to be granted protection in another country, international laws require that the country of origin should have laws for GI protection for its own product.
But with GI Rules now established in Pakistan, will this strengthen its case against India?
According to Hasan Irfan Khan, a senior partner at United Trademark & Patent Services in Lahore, it does not have any bearing at all.
“I would not even say that it would strengthen the opposition. Even if the Rules were not notified,” said Khan, “I believe Pakistan’s opposition is, by itself, very strong on the grounds.”
Foremost of these grounds, he said, is that the government of India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has acknowledged basmati rice as a GI product of both India and Pakistan. This will make it impossible for India to counter or dissolve such acknowledgement. Yet, in its application, India referred to basmati rice as being grown in certain regions of its country only.
“Of course I would not say that this ground would sustain because I don’t want to jeopardize the judges or the authorities who would make a judgement,” said Khan. “But I think, by any rule of interpretation, in any jurisdiction of the world, when there is a recognition by a party that a certain fact exists, then it’s very difficult for them to go back and say that it does not exist.”
Khan also mentioned an agreement between the Pakistani government and the EU and a similar agreement between India’s government and the EU documenting the importation of basmati to Europe, among other such documentation.
“Pakistan has been exporting basmati rice for decades even if we consider the period from 1947 when the subcontinent became two countries – India and Pakistan,” Khan said. “So I think the issue is that the world clearly recognizes basmati as originating from Pakistan, also. I am very hopeful that Pakistan’s opposition will succeed and that it may have already also moved for registration of basmati as a GI in its own name so that our exporters and farmers can also benefit from GI laws, enjoy the exclusivity which is the whole essence of IPR protection, and so that the product known as basmati, having a particular quality and aroma and originating from the regions in Pakistan, is exported out exclusively by Pakistani exporters.”
With the notification of the GI Rules and the GI Registry, it isn’t only the basmati rice farmers and producers who will benefit. The globally famous basmati is just one of Pakistan’s well-loved homegrown products. Pakistan also takes pride in its other export goods such as mangoes and dates which are also popular around the world.
Another made-in-Pakistan product now gaining worldwide attention is the Peshawari chappal, a semi-closed men’s footwear. Originating from the city of Peshawar, it is traditionally handmade and has been worn by men of the region for centuries. It costs around US$10-20, according to Khan. However, British designer Paul Smith has included the Peshawari chappal in its product line, calling it “Robert Sandals” and selling it for a lot more.
“I think with the business people in Pakistan supported by the government policies, we have a lot to gain by proper implementation of GI Regulations, recognizing the GIs in Pakistan and also enforcing them internationally. So that would be, I think a triggering point for the development of our economy,” said Khan.
With the government having taken its sweet time in notifying the GI Rules and thus initially affecting its challenge over India, are there lessons to be learned?
Khan said yes, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this; the first and most important one being to take IP rights issues including GI matters more seriously and act on these more promptly.
Pakistan had always acted fast. For example, the country was one of the first to accede to the General Agreement of Trades and Tariffs signed in 1947, now known as the World Trade Organization. Yet, it faltered somewhat on the necessity and urgency of formulating its GI Rules.
“Pakistan has always been at the forefront of acquiring or signing the international agreements in the modern concept. Maybe, GI slipped out of their attention. I think the major point of distinction for the GI dispute is that when there is a traditional dispute of IP right like a patent, trademark, or design, it is usually between two rival companies which are producing rival products. But if it’s GIs, we are talking about products which can affect the entire range of products of a large number of producers of the country,” Khan explained.
“But I hope in the future, when it comes to legislating important IP matters, the government of Pakistan would act in the usual prompt way as it has always had,” he added.
Espie Angelica A. de Leon