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EU stamp for Darjeeling Tea - Five-year window for brew blenders

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  • Published 27.10.11

Darjeeling, Oct. 26: The European Commission has registered Darjeeling Tea as a Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) product — the first commodity from India to get such a tag.

The status implies that the brew produced only in Darjeeling can be sold as Darjeeling Tea in the European Union countries. But a section of blenders, who at present pass off brew with a certain percentage of Darjeeling brew as Darjeeling Tea, have been given a five-year time to shift to the new business.

Sanjay Bansal, former chairperson of the Darjeeling Tea Association, whose companies have the largest stake in the Darjeeling tea industry, confirmed the development. “Our lawyers have confirmed that the EC has given the status of PGI to Darjeeling Tea. It is one of the biggest achievements for the Darjeeling tea industry stakeholders,” Bansal told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta.

As of now, blenders in the EU countries generally mix 49 per cent of any tea with 51 per cent of Darjeeling tea and still sell it as Darjeeling tea. Once the notification announcing the grant of PGI comes into effect, only those packets that contain 100 per cent Darjeeling tea can be sold as Darjeeling Tea.

“The notification will come into effect from November 10, 2011,” said Bansal. He added that some European blenders had been given a five-year transition period, a clause which is likely to be challenged by the Darjeeling Tea growers soon.

“The blenders have been handed out a caveat in the sense that only those people whose products were in the market five years before October 14, 2009, can continue selling their blended product as Darjeeling Tea for the next five years. We will definitely consult our lawyers and file an objection against the clause as early as possible,” said Bansal.

Nevertheless, the development is being considered as an epoch defining moment as nearly three-four million kg of made Darjeeling Tea is exported to the European countries. “This accounts for about 60 per cent of the Darjeeling Tea’s export,” said Bansal. The 80-odd tea gardens in Darjeeling produce around 10 million kg of made tea annually.

Industry officials have estimated that around 40 million kg of tea gets sold as Darjeeling tea across the globe annually. In this context, the EU’s decision is considered important. The process of granting a Geographic Indicator — which means that only the produce of a particular area can be sold, using its generic name, had started with India according the GI status to Darjeeling Tea in 2003. This was after the World Trade Organisation approved the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights in 1995.

Since, it was mandatory to get home protection, the Indian government passed a Geographic Indicator and Protection Act in 1999 after which Darjeeling Tea was given the GI status in 2003. Granting of GI status in the home country — India in the case of Darjeeling Tea — is only the first step towards the protection of the commodity’s generic brand.

In 2007, the Tea Board of India and the Darjeeling Tea Association had invoked a provision in the EU Commission Regulation 5001 to ask Brussels to accord the PGI status to Darjeeling Tea.

“We have also made an application before the Japanese Property Right Organisation for granting of the Production of Regional Origin (PRO) in Japan and also before the Trade Administration Authority (TAA) of USA for granting of Community Collection Mark in the USA,” said Bansal. He added that PRO and TAA were similar to the PGI tag.

Darjeeling tea has some form of protection in Germany, Japan and Australia but these were largely with regard to the trade mark and the logo. “The protection in these three countries only ensured that no other products could be sold if the Darjeeling Tea’s logo was used,” said Bansal.