Demerara sugar and geographical indications

Dear Editor,

 

I would like to congratulate DDL for having their rum certified as the Geographical Indicator “Demerara Rum”.  This means no one else can use the prefix “Demerara” on their rum.

Back in 2003, before the EU slashed its prices on our bulk sugar and as Guysuco was embarking on its ‘Demerara Gold” marketing of packaged sugar, I raised the issue of our position on GI’s in Parliament.  I was advised it was being handled by the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) headed by Mr Carl Greenidge. They had issued a paper on WTO-regulated GI’s in 2002 but there was no follow-up activity. For instance, since the WTO agreements specified that GI’s must be used in conformity with the law of the country of origin (re-application of the law of the country of origin) they had not advised the Guyana Government to enact the necessary legislation. I pointed out that since the WTO negotiations were ongoing within the Doha timetable, Guyana still had ample time to get its act together so that we may have another arrow in our bow to save the high-cost Demerara Plantations’ sugar.

I noted for some decades, Europe led the way in carving out the right to use a particular name for a product that came from a specific region – and became associated with the name of that region – such as “Bordeaux Wine”. By 1995, it was able to have it incorporated into the WTO Agree-ment on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as “Geographical Indications (GIs)” protection. The latter were defined by Article 22(1) as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributed to its geographic origin.” Initially utilized only for wines, it was extended to include other foodstuffs: “Florida” for oranges “Idaho” for potatoes “Wash-ington State” for apples etc. So I asked, why not “Demerara Sugar” for brown sugar from Demerara, Guyana?

Booker Tate, (hired in 1990 when the GI issue rose to the fore) was earning huge incentive bonuses based on overall production of our raw sugar and pushed the 1998 Strategic Plan which stressed increased overall total production and only mentioned en passant possible packaging of our sugar  as “Demerara Gold”- but only for Caricom and local markets.  None of the proposed certifications mentioned GI’s protection.

I was told the government was advised by its lawyers to protect the value of the “Demerara” name through the trademark route. How-ever, a trademark “is a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller’s products and distinguish them from the products of another for example “Coca Cola” and “Pepsi”.” I said that while there is nothing wrong with pursuing this option it does not have to be at the expense of ignoring the GI’s window of opportunity. Creating a brand name takes time and while we can boast about ours being the “real thing”, it will be very expensive and time consuming to move the fake Demerara Sugar off the lucrative supermarket shelves in the developed countries.

In the meantime, I said, we cannot sue anyone unless they call their product “Demerara Gold” –especially if some of our products originate from outside the Demerara plantations. I had not realised Bedessie from Berbice had already done so. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yours faithfully,

Ravi Dev

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