Cobus Coetzee

ROOIBOS producers are rushing to protect the use of the local tea’s name after a French company applied to have exclusive trademarks of “rooibos” and “South African rooibos” in that country.

SA Rooibos Council co-ordinator Soekie Snyman said they were applying to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission in the next two weeks for the certification trademark of “rooibos” in South Africa and helping the government to secure the use of “rooibos” in Europe.

Europe – particularly Germany, UK and the Netherlands – account for nearly 70 percent of rooibos exports.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies requested the EU’s ambassador to South Africa, Roeland van de Geer, to protect “rooibos” and two other agricultural food products as geographical indications (GI) in the EU.

Intellectual property law-yer Rowan Forster said GI protection meant no company could claim exclusive rights over the name “rooibos” in the whole of Europe.

“Rooibos is a generic name for a particular plant and not a brand of tea. It cannot be monopolised by a single party. The plant is also grown in a particular region of the Western Cape which adds a certain geographical significance.”

Forster said Europeans have protected agriculture products from Champagne, Port, Sherry and Feta.

South Africa consumes 60 percent of the 13 000 tons produced annually, the rest is exported to 30 countries.

Snyman said it would be a “huge milestone” to get GI protection for “rooibos” in Europe because it would be a recognition that the tea was a unique product of South Africa.

Western Cape Agriculture Department director Dirk Troskie said rooibos might fetch better prices if the EU were to grant GI protection.

Van de Geer said Davies’s request would be forwarded to the European Commission.

It is the first time South Africa has applied to the EU to protect a food product’s name under the GI legislation.

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