The EU ambassador to South Africa has strongly defended South Africa’s right to prevent a French company from registering Rooibos tea as its own trademark in France.
EU ambassador Roeland van de Geer has urged the South African government to do more to protect the country’s rights to such indigenous products.
He told journalists yesterday he believed the Department of Trade and Industry was preparing a request for full protection of the rooibos trademark in the EU, which the embassy would pass on to Brussels.
“I have every confidence that the request will succeed. If you can’t protect rooibos, what can you protect?” Van de Geer asked. He said South Africa’s ability to protect its indigenous products like rooibos internationally, ultimately depended on it properly protecting them in domestic legislation.
He noted that South Africa had so far failed to do that with rooibos even after the government had had to challenge a Texan company which tried to trademark rooibos in 2005. That case was eventually settled out of court.
Van de Geer said South Africa was basing its challenge to the French claim on a 1941 law and suggested South Africa should improve its capacity to protect what the EU calls “geographical indications” – products which are characteristic of certain regions.
He said the dispute over rooibos had shown it was good the EU was seeking protection for geographical indications – such as Dutch gouda cheeses in the Economic Partnership Agreement which it was negotiating with South Africa and other Southern African countries. That protection would ensure those characteristic names could not be used on products made elsewhere.