Donegal tweed could get protected status under EU plan

Initiative aimed at boosting employment and weeding out cheap competition

The European Commission is widening the number of European goods with protected status, from food and drink – including the likes of parmesan cheese and Parma ham – to products such as Donegal tweed and Limoges porcelain.

The new rules would mean only producers in specific regions using agreed processes could sell goods across the EU by the protected name to avoid cheap competition.

The European Commission believes it would cover at least 800 products including Solingen cutlery from Germany and Delft pottery from the Netherlands.

Reaction from the Donegal tweed sector was positive with one producer noting that, without a specific designation, there was nothing to stop products being made anywhere and sold as locally crafted items.

“People have no way of knowing if the tweed they are buying is genuine,” they said, welcoming the move to protect the sector.

Donegal Tweed is traditionally a wool fabric handwoven in the county and characterised by its distinctive flecks of colour.

"Europe has an exceptional legacy of world-renown crafts and industrial products. It is time that these producers benefit from a new intellectual property right, like food and wine producers, that will increase trust and visibility for their products, guaranteeing authenticity and reputation," Thierry Breton, internal market commissioner, said on Wednesday.

“Today’s initiative will contribute to the creation of skilled jobs especially for SMEs and to the development of tourism also in the more rural or economically weak areas.”

While protected food and drink products are recognised by the World Trade Organisation, craft products do not yet have global protection.

However, 38 countries, including Mexico, Tunisia and those in the EU, have signed an agreement at the World Intellectual Property Organisation to recognise protected products.

EU officials say they will make the recognition of these products a condition of future trade deals and could update existing deals with the rules.

Domestic schemes

About 16 EU countries had domestic schemes certifying protected products and these will now end, with regulation falling under the EU Intellectual Property Office in Spain.

The designation, which will use the same logo as the geographical indicator for food, will apply to craft and industrial products such as natural stones, jewellery, textiles, lace, cutlery, glass and porcelain.

Products must originate in a specific place, have a quality, reputation or other characteristic that is attributable to that place and have at least one production step taking place in the defined geographical area.

The EU already protects more than 3,400 names, from agricultural products to fish, wines and spirits, under its quality schemes. Last month it launched a review of the system to make it easier to use and provide greater controls on online sales.

Brussels goes to great lengths to defend food producers. Last year it declared victory in a long-running battle to force Egypt to accept feta cheese. Cairo had treated the crumbly Greek delicacy as a health threat because of its yeast content but changed its rules after heavy pressure from the commission. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

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