Stephane Passeri talks to Kuensel’s Jigmi Wangdi on Geographical Indication (GI) and its implications for Bhutan. He is an expert in GI and Regional Team Leader for GI of the Food and Agriculture (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok. Excerpts. 

What would be your recommendation to the relevant agencies or stakeholders to ensure GI is introduced in Bhutan?

GI is defined as indications that identify a good as originating in a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

One of the purposes of my mission is to create awareness about all GI works because it’s an intellectual property right and it’s a quality scheme. Technically speaking, by law, it is required for one agency to be involved as a leader like the Intellectual Property office but in the implementation, it involves a lot of inter-agency cooperation. It is a dialogue between agencies and also the identification by each agency of what could be the input to the development of the national GI system starting from the food and drug administration, and commerce, to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, and other agencies. It will be a common effort of various Bhutanese authorities to develop a suitable and sustainable GI system.

As Bhutan prepares to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), how can GI assist Bhutan in expanding local products onto the international market? 

Bhutan preparing to join WTO obliges Bhutan in a certain way to upgrade its intellectual property system. There is also GI amongst the intellectual property rights, so Bhutan will be in a situation to develop national legislation to protect GI from other members of the WTO. It will be a missed opportunity if Bhutan doesn’t benefit from their future membership to promote its products further. What is interesting also is as a foreigner, I can say that Bhutan has an extremely good perception in the world market for many different reasons; the country, beauty, values and specific culture but unfortunately this kind of positive perception cannot be monetised by the people of Bhutan.

For those reasons, we need to use GI for Bhutanese products to be actually using this good reputation to reach the consumers and demonstrate an attachment to Bhutan by buying the products. This will benefit the Bhutanese people, producers, traders and even the community. This can also trigger additional attraction for tourism. Right now, tourism means promoting Bhutan as a country but once you start to have GI, with the name of specific places with the products, then tourists will also be interested to visit new places creating new opportunities.

Bhutan currently has a variety of local products that have been produced through the initiatives of young entrepreneurs. How can GI help in benefitting these entrepreneurs? 

That is often the question we ask, which is giving the potential for the young generation to be involved. Often GI covers commodities in a food and agriculture market, so it’s often attached to older generations to produce this community. Why the young generation is not always benefited from that is because the community produces raw products which are exported to foreign markets and transformed there with all the added value and the excitement of branding done somewhere else. With GI we intend to repatriate some of these transformation steps in Bhutan, meaning to shorten the value chain. So, in terms of coffee for example, instead of selling green beans in a foreign market, we’ll recommend GI for the process of making final products to be done in Bhutan.

The young generation is more interested in promoting final products and commodities and they can create their brand, and commercialise coffee shops. They will be much more interested in participating in these higher-value products because it will also deliver better income for them because the young generation is also sometimes better educated. So they expect better revenue from the job they do. Therefore, you have to create opportunities through GI for them to be invested in more value-added products.