Geographic indication spots a niche in market

GI helps to unleash business potential of local specialities and alleviate rural poverty

China is unlocking its potential for geographical indication products, with improved policies, increasing use of e-commerce platforms and cooperation with foreign front-runners, experts said at the recent China Intellectual Property Annual Conference in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province.

"China is taking effective measures to develop GI products, including the promotion of standardization, application systems and large-scale activities," Wang Dongfeng, an official with the IP utilization promotion department of the National Intellectual Property Administration, told a session on the commercialized operation of GI on Tuesday.

As an internationally well-received IP item, GI is playing an important role in balancing urban and rural development, promoting international trade and serving the regional economy. It is also in the interest of society to develop rural areas.

Sangzhi county in Zhangjiajie city, Hunan province, is one such area in China. The county boasts high-quality yet lesser-known specialties including white tea, honey, radishes and giant salamanders.

A government official from Sangzhi announced at the session that the county had made substantial progress in its GI renewal plan, in cooperation with leading Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo and Intellectual Property Publishing House.

Sina Weibo has invited celebrities with huge followings to help with the county's GI promotion.

Shen Chuan from IPPH said: "Many high-quality agricultural products in rural areas have no decent packaging and farmers have no channels to sell and promote, so we are working to help them access big cities and the world."

Gu Wei, another official from the county, said: "A host of microbloggers have shot videos, drawn pictures and taken photos to enable netizens to see Sangzhi, and this renewal plan is a big push to lift Sangzhi out of poverty."

Zhou Jinxiu, director of the public affairs department of Chinese internet giant Alibaba Group, cited a dozen regional brands of agricultural products that got started on the company's online sales arm Taobao and then have become popular nationwide. They included red rice from Yuanyang in Yunnan province, oranges from Fengjie in Chongqing, kiwi fruit produced in Jinzhai, Anhui province and honey from Pingwu in Sichuan province.

Online sales and GI branding strategy help "farmers of those products increase their income", Zhou said.

Guenther Marten, minister counselor of the European Union delegation to China, said that China is about to agree with the EU on the recognition of 100 European GIs in China and 100 Chinese GIs in Europe.

"In the 1950s, Colombia was the first producing country that took an active stance toward marketing its produce and giving a 'face' to a commodity," Marten said, adding that successful GI products like Cafe de Colombia have gone through a process - branding, licensing, certification and GI. They have all started out on a small scale but have acquired a reputation worldwide over time.

Consumers pay not only for good quality, but also for unique features. High-quality GI products are sold at a premium price, which is expected to happen in China too, Marten said.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how GIs will be developed, China should jump right to the optimization of the current policies, he said.

For China, it takes more than recognition to have a successful GI - the real challenges lie in the implementation and control, where the EU has practical experiences, Marten said.

As of June 2019, a total of 5,090 GI trademarks had been registered across the country, 2,380 GI products had been approved nationwide, 8,295 enterprises have been allowed to use GI signs and 24 national GI product protection demonstration zones had been established in the country, according to organizers.

(Source: China Daily,