On 17 and 18 February 2022, the Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project in Africa (AfrIPI), in partnership with the Africa International Trade and Commerce Research (AITCR) and the IP First Group, hosted The National Conference on Creating Legal and Institutional Frameworks for Geographical Indications. The conference was in Nigeria at the Hilton-Transcorp in Abuja.
This conference was a groundbreaking event, paving the way for national legislation on geographical indications (GIs). Why is this so necessary?
A geographical indication (GI) is a distinctive sign used to identify a product whose quality, reputation or other such characteristics relate to its geographical origin. Some globally renowned GIs are Champagne (France), Feta Cheese (Greece), Thai Silk, Penja Pepper (Cameroon). You are only entitled to use a geographical indication if your product actually comes from the protected region. So, for example, if you produce sparkling wine in Germany, you are not allowed to call it champagne.
Nigeria currently has a wide variety of unique products including Sokoto goats skin, Ijebu garri, skin hide of Kano, Kilishi of Northern Nigeria, Yaji (dry pepper), Nsukka Yellow pepper, Aso Oke, Awori mat, Fura, and many more. However, none of them have benefitted from any comprehensive registration that would bring added value from international recognition and commercialisation. With this gap in protection, anyone anywhere could use one of these denominations on their products.
Hence, the tremendous significance of this National Conference which aimed to support the implementation of an appropriate legal framework to create and protect geographical indications in Nigeria, creating business opportunities and new markets for Nigerian products.
‘Nigeria has great potential to develop and add value to its many quality products through geographical indications. I am convinced that this is the best tool to promote Nigeria’s agri-food sector and diversify exports to both the EU and elsewhere in Africa,’ said John Clarke, Director for International Affairs at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission.
‘I am confident that with the strong leadership and strategic vision displayed by the Nigerian government, alongside close partnership of industry and civil society, Nigerian GIs will also take their place alongside these world famous GIs. Once again, WIPO congratulates Nigeria on the progress made to date, and commends the strong support of the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation in Africa (AfrIPI) and Africa International Trade & Commerce Research (AITCR), in contributing to Nigeria’s important GI journey.‘, said in his welcoming speech Daren Tang, WIPO Director General.
How did the conference come about? First, in 2021, AfrIPI delivered a high-level public sector capacity building workshop on GIs. That led to setting up a Nigerian Technical Working Group on GIs. It was made up of representatives from various institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Nigeria Bar Association. This group had 7 months to draft a sui generis law on GIs, starting from August 2021.
- examined the key items of the draft law
- discussed a roadmap for adopting the law in the Nigerian system
- discussed the importance of GIs for the Nigerian economy in general as well as in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), for example, a presentation called ‘Protecting Nsukka Yellow Pepper: Rationale and Way Forward’ highlighted how important it is to have such a name of a typical product registered and protected by law.
As well as presentations and discussions, there was an exhibition of Nigerian potential geographical indications.
‘This conference has attracted key people who will help sensitise the importance of geographical indications in Nigeria. Indeed, pending issues that need to be addressed were raised through extensive presentations and panel discussions. We trust that local businesses will be empowered as it showcased that GIs are an excellent instrument for local development,’ stated Ignacio de Medrano Caballero, Manager of International Cooperation at EUIPO.
‘As AfrIPI, we have made great strides towards facilitating the roadmap for GIs in Nigeria. From the first encounter with the Technical Working group last year till now, it has been an eye-opening journey. Subsequently, we are happy to have this opportunity to present the outcomes of this process, and we hope it will influence greater awareness of GIs in Nigeria,’ added Dennis Scheirs, Project Leader, AfrIPI.