- Mr Davies’ request to the European Commission would form part of negotiations on an economic partnership agreement between the EU and South Africa.
Business Day | 27 March 2013
Government moves to protect rooibos in EU — eight years on
by Sue Blaine
A FRENCH company’s attempt to make "rooibos" their cup of tea has galvanised the government into action to protect the term — a move it should have made eight years ago after South Africa won a similar battle with a US company, experts said on Tuesday.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies this week sent a request to the European Union (EU) for the protection of "rooibos" and "South African rooibos" — terms the French company is trying to trademark — and similar requests to protect another fynbos infusion, honeybush tea, and "Karoo", as a label for lamb.
"It’s actually a good thing that this French thing happened. We spent a decade trying to get ‘rooibos’ registered.… This (the French company’s application) has the advantage of alerting everybody to the relevance and urgency of this task," said Elsenburg Agricultural College business planning and strategy director Dirk Troskie.
South Africa reached an out-of-court settlement with Burke International in 2005, protecting the term "rooibos" in the US, but doing so in the EU would mean protecting 70% of the rooibos export market. The industry has an estimated R600m turnover and employs 4,500 people.
Intellectual property lawyer Rowan Foster said it was unclear why the government had not acted already. "Geographical indication has been hovering around for a decade. If we had introduced it (into South African law), Europe would have already recognised ‘rooibos’," he said.
Soekie Snyman, co-ordinator of the Rooibos Council of South Africa, said the body was established in 2005 and found it difficult to determine how best to protect the tea, especially as South African law did not cater for "geographical indications", a name or sign used on products which corresponds to a geographical location or origin — the best known being European ones such as Champagne, sherry and port. EU rules demand that a geographical indication be protected domestically before the EU accepts it, Ms Snyman said. The council was poised to register rooibos as a collective trademark in the next two weeks; the paperwork had been "99% done", she said.
The South African Honeybush Tea Association would probably do the same, said chairwoman Marlise Joubert. It wanted to learn from the council’s experience.
It took much toing and froing among government departments, and consultations with lawyers, before the council settled on registering "rooibos" as a "collective trademark" — used by members of a collective to indicate membership and to distinguish the goods or services produced.
EU spokesman in South Africa Frank Oberholzer said Mr Davies’s letter to EU ambassador Roeland van de Geer asked for protection of "rooibos", "honeybush" and "Karoo" as geographical indications under the economic partnership agreement between South Africa and the EU.
EU economic and trade counsellor Axel Pougin de la Maisonneuve said Mr Davies’ request to the European Commission would form part of negotiations on an economic partnership agreement between the EU and South Africa. It was hoped talks on the agreement would make good progress this month.
He said South Africa could send paperwork before the trade agreement was concluded, to speed up the process once that stage was reached.