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Recognizing Native Wines and Spirits of India

India has had a rich history of traditional alcohol that has been celebrated by communities across the country and small communities and tribes of the country continue to carry the legacy of India’s native wines and spirits. With the onset of modern forms of alcohol, traditional wines have faced tough competition around the world and India has been no different.

On a completely different note, or maybe quite a related one, the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights provides protection to Geographical Indication of goods and services, a name or sign used on certain products which correspond to a specific geographical location or origin. GI tag and subsequently its international recognition has proved to not just be an effective measure against counterfeiting but has also contributed towards the economic development of people and communities engaged in the production of the recognized product.

The same agreement provides a higher level of protection to wines and spirits of the world. In the special case of wines and spirits, Article 23.1 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights prohibits the use of translations of geographical indications or attachment of expressions such as ‘kind’, ‘type’, ‘style’, ‘imitation’ to products not originating from the place indicated, even where the true origin is clearly indicated.1 Thus, ‘Champagne-style sparkling wine, made in the USA would be prohibited while Darjeeling-style tea will not be considered deception.

Relating all the information provided as yet, we introduce Tequila from Mexico. Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jaliscan Highlands of the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco. Mexico applied for and received international protection for Tequila manufactured in Tequila, Mexico by citing the relevant differences that matter to the consumer.2

The international recognition has benefitted not just the Tequila manufacturers but also the artisans of crystal, ceramic, hand-blown glass, or Talavera pottery that is signature to Tequila bottles exported all over the world. The benefits are thus, passed on to businesses across the value chain of a product.

In India, we have communities similar to the ones in Tequila, Mexico that has been in the business of traditional alcohol for ages. The Goan Feni is probably the most popular example of such a traditional wine from India. Many others include Apong from Assam and Thaati Kallu from Kerela among many others. In a lot of cases, these beverages are produced by tribes of a state who are only gradually receiving new economic opportunities either due to physical constraints or skill gaps.

Providing a geographical indication to the native wines and spirits of India and subsequently contesting for their international recognition is a matter of more than intellectual property protection. This is an excellent opportunity to alleviate the economic position of traditional communities of India without the use of extensive policymaking or monetary instruments.

Subject to the safety of consumption testing, these wines and spirits can be popularized first domestically and then over time their international popularity can be achieved akin to the Mexican Tequila. This recognition can become the ticket to prosperity of the primarily rural and tribal manufactures of native Indian alcohol.