Before addressing the issue of geographical indication schemes, I will say a word about the related issue of countries-of-origin labelling and express support for the relevant provisions in Amendment 254 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. My right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, recently raised this issue at Prime Minister’s Questions and received what might be interpreted as an encouraging response. Having drawn the Prime Minister’s attention to the fact that Orkney beef producers have their efforts to market a quality product undermined by the labelling legislation in this country, which allows beef from anywhere in the world to be labelled as “British beef” as long as it is packaged in this country, he asked whether in light of any future trade arrangements the Prime Minister would do something to close that loophole. In reply, the Prime Minister said that
“we intend to take advantage of the freedoms that we have—the freedoms that the British people have decided to take back—to make sure that Scottish beef farmers have the protections that they need.”—[
So this evening the Minister has the opportunity to indicate that the Government will indeed give Scottish beef farmers the protections that they need and to signal a willingness to use this legislation to close a loophole in country-of-origin labelling, thus giving confidence and reassurance to producers and consumers alike.
I would have thought there was common ground that geographical indication schemes bring market benefits to a considerable number of products. Scotland has 14 protected geographical indications. The NFUS describes some—the Scotch beef PGI and the Scotch lamb PGI—as being of strategic importance to Scottish agriculture’s output.
I assume that in future the starting point will be Article 54.2 of the European Union/UK withdrawal agreement of
“shall be entitled, as from the end of the transition period … to use the geographical indication, the designation of origin” concerned in the UK, and that they
“shall be granted at least the same level of protection under the law of the United Kingdom as under the … provisions of Union law”.
Can the Minister confirm how, with less than six months to go, that binding treaty obligation is to be implemented? Is there yet a United Kingdom register?
Of course, this ensures protection in the United Kingdom for a number of geographical indication products that are of importance to European Union countries and for UK produce currently given protection by these EU schemes. The object of this proposed new clause is to probe what continuing protection will be given to the United Kingdom’s geographical indications in the European Union and further afield after the end of the transition period. That is important, not least given the somewhat alarming reports referred to by my noble friend Lord Tyler.
In the Government’s response to a consultation paper on GIs published last year, Defra claimed that
“we anticipate that existing UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s GI schemes after we leave the EU. This is because UK GIs are already protected by virtue of being on the EU’s various GI registers. That protection will continue automatically in the EU unless relevant entries are removed, which would require additional EU legislation.”
Can the Minister confirm that that remains the Government’s expectation, or are the kind of newspaper reports referred to by my noble friend founded and do they give rise to a matter for concern?
Moreover, GI protection has hitherto been afforded to UK products by way of free trade agreements with a large number of non-EU countries. In replying to the debate, can the Minister tell us how many rollover agreements have now been reached, what proportion of UK trade agreements with these countries represent and whether GI provisions have been agreed in each case?
That leaves the question of countries with which we have not yet managed to reach a rollover agreement or where there has yet been no EU free trade agreement to roll over. The USA springs to mind, where there is believed to be some scepticism of GIs in trade agreements. Will the Minister indicate whether the incorporation of GI protection for UK products will be a negotiating objective in any trade agreement with the United States?
Then, of course, there is the proviso of Article 54.2, which states:
“This paragraph shall apply unless and until an agreement as referred to in Article 184 that supersedes this paragraph enters into force or becomes applicable.”
“The UK is pushing to water down its obligation to recognise valuable EU regional food trademarks for products like Parma ham and Champagne”.
Is that the case? Can the Minister confirm that, in the absence of any agreement by the end of the transition period or if the agreement does not amend the provisions of Article 54.2, the United Kingdom continues to be bound by those provisions as a matter of international law?
I am currently within six or seven miles of two distilleries—Highland Park and Scapa—and my son-in-law works for the Tullibardine distillery in Perthshire, so before concluding I wish to say a word about one of the most valuable protected geographic indications, namely Scotch whisky. It has been defined in United Kingdom law since 1933 and has been protected in a US federal code as whisky
“manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of the United Kingdom” since the 1960s. Nevertheless, GI schemes have been of enormous benefit to the Scotch whisky industry. It is believed that the protection enjoyed in the United Kingdom as an EU GI is stronger than that provided under our domestic law. The provisions of the EU withdrawal agreement are therefore particularly important in that respect. It is therefore vital that the Minister makes it clear that the protection currently offered to UK GIs will be maintained through the EU withdrawal agreement or any further treaty agreement with the European Union and that, in seeking rollover agreements and other free trade agreements, GI protection, not least for Scotch, will be a negotiating objective. Sláinte.