A political and economic dispute between Peru and its Southern neighbour, Chile ,over Pisco, a clear grape brandy, has spilled over into India.
“Chile has opposed the application filed by Peru with India’ s Geographical Indications (GI) Registry, seeking a GI tag for the brew named Pisco,” a Union commerce ministry official, who did not want to be identified, said.
The Chilean government, through its embassy in New Delhi, has hired a Mumbai-based law firm dealing in intellectual property issues, Krishna & Saurastri, to fight its case.
Pisco is a clear, strong brandy, distilled from fermented black Quebranta grapes, with an alcohol content of about 42 degrees. Pisco derives its name from the Ica Valley or “Pisco Valley”, now known as the city of Pisco, 300km to the south of Peru’s capital Lima. It has been produced there since the 16th century.
The Peruvian government had filed an application (called a convention country application for those who have joined the World Trade Organization) through its embassy in India with the GI Registry seeking GI protection in India for its national liquor. This was the first such application filed by a foreign country after the registry started receiving applications in September 2003.
GIs form a key part of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement signed by WTO members. GIs are defined as indications that identify a product as originating in the territory of a member-country or a region or locality in that territory.
After processing the case, the GI Registry, functioning under the Controller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade attached to the commerce ministry, had published the name of Pisco in one of its journals.
According to rules, a product is granted a GI tag if it does not atttract opposition within three months of its name appearing in a journal.
“With Chile opposing the application, tribunal proceedings will start now,”the official said.
A GI certificate confers legal protection to the product and safeguards its unauthorized use by other countries or producers. It is a collective monopoly right assigned to the producers either within or outside the relevant geographical area and reduces or eliminates unfair competition for the benefit of genuine producers and consumers.
A product can claim protection under GI in another country only after securing protection in the country of its origin. Pisco has taken GI protection not only in Peru, but also in a few other Latin American countries.
Besides the city of Pisco, the name also denotes a bird in the native language. Pisco has been a part of Peruvian culture for more than 400 years and its production has been passed from generation to generation and is a ritual in many families. The government of Peru promotes Pisco as a cultural icon.
But the Peruvians’ national pride was pricked when Chile staked a historical legacy to Pisco to promote its own namesake in the global market, particularly in the US and European countriers.
This came after Peru’s Pisco production was hit by agrarian reforms, farming problems, hyper-inflation, irrigation water pollution and growing of crops more profitable than grapes since the 1970s.Chile contended that it had an equal right to use the name, stating that it had a town named Pisco Elqui in its Pisco-producing Elqui Valley.
But the Peruvians rejected this claim saying that the town, which was the birthplace of Nobel laureate poet Gabriela Mistral, was originally called ‘Union’ until the Chilean government renamed it in the 1930s during an earlier campaign to promote Pisco.
Besides, with a port, a valley and a river named Pisco, Peruvians sought exclusive rights to use the name overseas, saying that the hard liquor is to Peru what scotch is to Scotland and port is to Portugal.
Regardless of this, Chile launched a $2 million advertising blitzkrieg in the US in 1998 to promote Chilean Pisco, which experts say is sweeter and lighter than the Peruvian Pisco, which has a higher alcohol content.
Interestingly, neither country currently sells Pisco actively in India.