Registration of Geographical Indications for Vietnamese Agricultural Products Abroad A Case Study of Bilateral Cooperation between Viet Nam and Japan

Viet Nam is a tropical country famous for its wide range of high quality and unique agricultural products which are valuable for its economic development. In 2021, Viet Nam hit a new high of $48.6 billion in export turnover of agricultural, fishery and forestry products, surpassing the year’s target, despite the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is undeniable that the agricultural products originating in Vietnam have won a very positive impression and affection from foreign customers, and have also firmly established themselves in the international market. This opportunity also comes with significant challenges as many markets, such as the EU or the US, are tightening their quality and management requirements before products can be exported to these countries. Therefore, the need to register geographical indications for Vietnamese agricultural products is increasing, as they will help create advantages over other competitors, help preserve cultural value, and improve the prestige and value of products. Vietnamese agricultural products on international markets.

A resolution calls for collaboration between Viet Nam and other countries and regions through bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as the EU-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), etc. protect Viet Nam’s geographical indications in other jurisdictions ─ in accordance with these agreements. The example below illustrates some of the problems encountered when registering agricultural products from Viet Nam as geographical indications in Japan.

On June 2, 2017, the Intellectual Property Office of Viet Nam (IPVN) and the Food Industry Bureau of Japan (FIAB) signed the Memorandum of Cooperation on Geographical Indications between Viet Nam and Japan. Luc Ngan lychee, Binh Thuan dragon fruit and Buon Ma Thuot coffee from Viet Nam have been selected for registration as geographical indications in Japan, in order to implement the Memorandum. The project started in August 2018 and ended after three years in June 2021.

Initially, the expected completion date of the project was September 2019. However, many factors contributed to the prolonged process. First, Viet Nam did not have many in-depth studies on the characteristics of these agricultural products. This had the effect of slowly responding to Japan’s demands. In addition, studies on natural geographical conditions are inconsistent and production methods are often not in accordance with those declared in the registration dossier. These were the main reasons for the extended duration of the granting of geographical indication protection. After researching, collecting evidence and forming scientific characteristics, Luc Ngan lychee and Binh Thuan dragon fruit were granted protection as geographical indications in Japan. This action has helped to sustain the quality of these products and create new opportunities for other products under geographical indications from Viet Nam.

This project, the “Support for registration of geographic indication protection in Japan for 03 products: Luc Ngan lychee, Binh Thuan dragon fruit, and Buon Ma Thuot coffee”, identified several problems and avenues for subsequent resolutions that Viet Nam should have taken considered from the start of the project. First, the products to be registered as geographical indications must be chosen carefully. It is recommended to register only products that have a clearly established reputation, positive characteristics and high quality, as registering a geographical indication abroad is a complex process. There should be enough evidence and documents to prove the prestige, properties and specific product quality for each product. In addition, there is a need to strengthen effective coordination between agencies and departments involved in the production and trade of products registered as geographical indications. In addition, there should be a transparent and efficient mechanism to update the latest data on such geographical indications, even after the first successful registration, in order to maintain a high reputation in foreign markets.

In summary, geographical indications have substantial benefits as they establish the reputation of products and contribute significantly to the commercial value of products in the domestic market and for export. They also help with; promote the protection of geographical indications between countries exchanging information on these policies, and they contribute to increasing public awareness of geographical indications. Viet Nam is a country with many agricultural specialties. Therefore, the registration of geographical indications abroad is expected to attract more attention from product suppliers and relevant government entities in order to obtain competitive advantages for certain Vietnamese specialties and increase customer consumption.

Amalia H. Mercado