Sweet Victory: Guimaras Mangoes Granted First Geographical Indication in the Philippines, Steps Taken to Combat Infringement

1st June – The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) has granted approval for the registration of Guimaras mangoes as a geographical indication (GI). This milestone achievement marks the country’s first registered GI and brings great success to the Guimaras mango farmers who have tirelessly worked for nearly a decade to obtain this coveted seal.

With the GI seal in place, Guimaras Mango Growers and Producers Development Cooperative (GMGPDC) President Felipe Z. Gamarcha anticipates a significant increase in local prices. He stated that they hope to see the prices almost double, which would result in additional income for the farmers. In 2022, the average farm gate price for Guimaras Mangoes was P200, a significant rise from the previous range of P20 to P50 per kilo before the association secured a collective mark in 2017.

A geographical indication serves as a marketing tool that highlights a product’s uniqueness and compelling narrative. It certifies the link between the product’s quality, characteristics, reputation, and its geographical origin. These factors can be influenced by environmental conditions, such as soil and climate, as well as human factors like tradition and local expertise.

IPOPHL Deputy Director General Ann Claire C. Cabochan emphasized the potential of the GI system in promoting development outside metropolitan areas and ensuring that the local people benefit from their produce.

Guimaras Mangoes are known for their exceptional sweetness, which is attributed to the unique characteristics of the region. According to the Manual of Specifications (MOP) for Guimaras Mangoes, the fruit is a variety known as “Carabao” mango. It has a distinct shape, with an ellipsoid body, rounded crown, oblong end, broad shoulder, and full cheek. The flesh is meaty, smooth, firm, juicy, and non-fibrous, with over 80% of the fruit being edible due to its thin seed. The Total Soluble Solids (TSS) test conducted by the Bureau of Plant and Industry – Guimaras National Crop Research, Development, and Production Support Center confirms that Guimaras Mangoes have a sweetness level of at least 16° Brix, which is considered above average.

The quality of Guimaras Mangoes is influenced by the calcareous soil in the province, which is rich in calcium and magnesium, ensuring proper drainage. The topography of the region, characterized by moderate undulations, rolling to steep slopes, and varying elevations, is also suitable for cultivating the “Carabao” mango variety. Climate plays a crucial role as well, with the absence of rain during the flowering period being essential to prevent pollen loss and infestation risks. The peak harvest season occurs in May and is celebrated through the Manggahan Festival.

To maintain the GI seal, the GMGPDC has established various practices related to soil management, pre-planting preparations, post-harvest handling, packing, storage, and product labeling. The entire island province of Guimaras, comprising five municipalities, produces Guimaras Mangoes.

The journey to securing the GI registration began in 2013 when the association collaborated with the European Union under the Trade-Related Technical Assistance Project and consulted with IPOPHL. Former Provincial Economic Development Officer Elena V. Quezon recalls the extensive meetings and negotiations that took place to determine the defining characteristics of the product. The association is already receiving offers to export Guimaras Mangoes to countries like the Czech Republic, Dubai, and the Republic of Korea, following its initial export of two tons to Switzerland in 2022.

However, one major concern following the GI registration is infringement. Deceptive traders have been a major challenge for Guimaras mangoes and other geographical indications. Some traders misleadingly market their products as Guimaras mangoes, taking advantage of the fruit’s esteemed reputation. Elena V. Quezon hopes that with the GI registration, stronger safeguards can be implemented to prevent such infringement.

Quezon emphasized the need for a system that allows farmers and producers to check and penalize those falsely claiming their products as Guimaras mangoes. Currently, there is a lack of institutional support and mechanisms to address this issue, which has economic implications for the farmers and producers. She called for assistance in establishing effective measures to police and enforce the protection of Guimaras mangoes.

Infringement is not unique to Guimaras mangoes alone. During the same forum, Camiguin lanzones producers expressed similar concerns about misleading marketing of their product. This issue is also prevalent in the European Union, as highlighted by Alexandra Mayr, the Program Manager of the EU IP Office’s CARIFORUM IP Rights and Innovation. Infringements pose significant challenges to geographical indications, with approximately 60% of producers in craft and industrial products in the EU facing this problem.

To address these concerns, Jesus Antonio Z. Ros, Director of the Bureau of Trademarks (BOT), acknowledged the need for a strong geographical indication regime. He emphasized the importance of a sui generis law that provides GIs with comprehensive protection beyond what conventional IP systems can offer. Ros revealed that proposed legislation would consider violations of GIs as crimes against the economic and cultural interests of the State, enabling enforcement without relying solely on private stakeholders.

Ros expressed hope that the legislators would support this initiative. He mentioned the active involvement of legislative partners such as Senator Loren Legarda and Congressman Christopher De Venecia, who are strong advocates of culture and have shown great interest in geographical indications as key speakers at the GI Forum.

The envisioned legislation will also align with IPOPHL’s plans to accede to the 2015 Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement. The Geneva Act provides an international registration route for GIs, facilitating potential market expansion in over 70 contracting member countries. Director General Rowel S. Barba emphasized that this pursuit of international registration showcases the Philippines’ commitment to protecting its unique products and promoting them on a global scale.

One advantage of the Geneva Act is that GIs registered under it enjoy indefinite duration of protection as long as the main geographically attributed qualities are preserved. This eliminates the need for renewal, saving time and costs compared to the collective and certification mark systems that require renewal every 10 years.

IPOPHL has already identified over 30 potential GIs, which are currently being assisted for domestic registration. Once the Philippines accedes to the Geneva Act, these GIs can be pursued for international protection.

Director General Barba emphasized that registration is just the beginning, and IPOPHL will continue to collaborate with agencies, local governments, and communities. The goal is to ensure that farmers, producers, and distributors reap the maximum rewards from their premium goods and cultural products. The approval of Guimaras mangoes as the Philippines’ first geographical indication marks a significant achievement for the agricultural sector and sets the stage for future legislative reforms against infringement. As the nation moves forward in protecting its unique products, it paves the way for increased economic opportunities and global recognition of its rich agricultural heritage.

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