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Sober reflection on traditional terms for wines

Matthew Kennedy

Keywords: traditional terms (traditional expressions); geographical indications; trade marks; wine agreement; TRIPS; TBT; WTO; Brexit

The EU regulations on geographical indications for wines establish a scheme that provides GI-like protection for an assortment of non-geographical words, phrases and initials known as ‘traditional terms’. These terms may only be used with wines with a GI according to specified conditions and they constitute an absolute ground for refusal of a trade mark application. The European Union has shown flexibility in allowing identical terms to be used with different wines from different EU member states and from third countries that conclude a bilateral wine agreement, but it has ceased to consider applications for recognition of the same terms from other countries. The EU scheme is inconsistent with WTO obligations, not in TRIPS but rather in the TBT Agreement and GATT 1994, because it is discriminatory and administered in an unreasonable manner, and it may also create an unnecessary obstacle to trade. The United Kingdom may decide to abandon this scheme after Brexit.

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