GI Products and Economic Diplomacy of Bangladesh

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Geographical Indication (GI) is a crucial component of intellectual property rights that plays a vital role in fostering economic development, safeguarding cultural legacy, and enhancing a nation’s diplomatic influence. GI refers to the distinct features and attributes of a product that are closely tied to its specific place of origin. As per the World Trade Organization, GIs refer to names of places (and in certain countries, words linked to places) that are utilized to establish the source, excellence, credibility, or other attributes of products. This includes aspects like climate, soil, traditional manufacturing techniques, and the expertise of artisans. By the way, the Geographical indications (GIs) date back to the Middle Ages, when European areas began to differentiate their wines and agricultural goods. The concept that products acquire attributes and reputations from their sources was officially established in the Paris Convention of 1883. GIs are now esteemed and sought-after components in trade negotiations, with over 100 countries building their unique areas of expertise as brands that are recognized both worldwide and locally.

With the world becoming more interconnected and products surpassing national boundaries and cultural norms, GI is a potent instrument for preserving the originality and character of regional goods. Not only does this boost their worth in the market, but it also provides a springboard for economic diplomacy, which helps nations make the most of their cultural assets and encourages collaboration across borders. However, recognizing the significance of GI for its goods, Bangladesh has achieved great gains. The country is rich in cultural variety and traditional craftsmanship. Nevertheless, the country’s progress in this field has not been without its share of obstacles, including bureaucratic red tape, public ignorance, and even territorial disputes with nearby countries. However, steps have been taken by the government and other interested parties to address these concerns and realize GI’s full economic diplomacy potential.

Bangladesh’s Current Status with GI Products

Bangladesh, being known for its vibrant cultural heritage and wide range of traditional crafts, has increasingly acknowledged the significance of GI for its products. According to an Industries Ministry, as of February 2024, Bangladesh has secured GI status for 31 products, showcasing the nation’s commitment to protecting its cultural heritage and promoting its unique offerings. Notable GI-certified products include the iconic Jamdani sari, Hilsa fish, Khirsapat mango, Rajshahi silk, and Dinajpur’s Kataribhog rice. Three new products, namely Nakshi Kantha of Jamalpur, Sweet Betel Leaf of Rajshahi, and Date Molasses of Jessore, have recently been granted distinguished GI status. These products have gained international recognition for their exceptional quality and distinct characteristics, reflecting the country’s diverse geographic and cultural landscapes.

However, in Bangladesh, the act pertaining to GI Products (Registration and Protection) was passed into law in the year 2013. To safeguard domestic place-based goods, the GI Act of 2013 provides the regulatory basis for an innovative approach that could be advantageous. In 2015, the Department of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks (DPDT) made a request for the registration of geographic indication (GI) products following the enactment of the Act. DPDT acknowledges and verifies GI products under the Ministry of Industry in accordance with the standards set by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Although Bangladesh has made significant progress, it has encountered difficulties in establishing its legitimate ownership of certain GI products, especially those that have historical connections to neighboring countries like India. The recent controversy surrounding India’s claim over the Tangail Saree, a symbol of Bangladesh’s rich cultural heritage, highlights the intricate dynamics and potential conflicts that can arise in the realm of GI recognition. The Government of West Bengal in India suddenly claimed that it was granted the GI status for the ‘Tangail Saree of Bengal’ on January 2, 2024. India’s Ministry of Culture stated via Facebook that the Tangail saree, which has its origins in West Bengal, is a classic and skillfully handcrafted artwork. It is widely recognized for its high-quality fabric, vivid hues, and detailed Jamdani patterns, representing the area’s abundant cultural legacy. However, due to intense condemnation and online protests from Bangladeshi residents, the Indian Ministry of Culture had to remove the content from its social media platform.

These dynamics underline the importance of strong legal frameworks, efficient enforcement mechanisms, and diplomatic initiatives to protect Bangladesh’s intellectual property rights and secure fair acknowledgment of its traditional products worldwide. Although the country has made commendable efforts in this field, there is still a considerable amount of untapped potential that remains to be harnessed.

Why Does the GI Status of Products Matter?

The GI of products has emerged as a pivotal concept in the realm of intellectual property rights, offering multifaceted benefits that transcend mere economic considerations. Protecting the genuineness, singularity, and cultural importance of goods that are closely tied to their geographical origins is the primary goal of GI. The significance of GI is paramount in today’s more interrelated and globalized world, where ideas and goods travel freely across national boundaries. It promotes sustainable development, cultural preservation, economic diplomacy, and product value enhancement. However, understanding the significance of GI products lies in their capacity to bolster export competitiveness and stimulate economic growth. Through the establishment of a robust brand identity and a commitment to authenticity, products that have received GI certification can demand higher prices in international markets. Consumers, especially those in international markets, are more than willing to pay a higher price for products that have a verified geographical origin. This is because it indicates superior quality, a strong reputation, and a sense of exclusivity.

This competitive advantage not only enhances export earnings, but also fosters opportunities for local producers, artisans, and businesses to flourish. Products from rural and marginalized communities are often rooted in traditional craftsmanship and agricultural practices that have been refined over many generations. Through the GI certification, producers may develop a distinct identity for products. Their products truly distinguish themselves from similar offerings in other nations. Consequently, their products develop a distinct reputation. Additionally, they have the ability to set their prices at a premium of 20% to 30% compared to the competing products. Also, GI products have a deep connection to the cultural heritage of the regions they come from. These embody the result of centuries of craftsmanship, ancestral wisdom, and longstanding customs transmitted across generations. Recognizing and promoting GI products is crucial for nations to protect and preserve their invaluable cultural assets, guaranteeing their continuity for future generations. In addition, the concepts of sustainable development are intrinsically compatible with many GI goods due to their roots in traditional practices and sustainable manufacturing methods.

Moreover, by assuring the genuineness and excellence of items, GI certification is vital in safeguarding consumers’ interests and fetishism towards traditional goods. By making it harder to fake or misrepresent anything, it helps to create a more trustworthy business environment. People may promote fair trade and ethical consumerism by making educated decisions based on the reputation and features associated with a particular geographical origin. Even, countries have been engaging in constructive dialogues and negotiations in order to pursue GI recognition and protect intellectual property rights.

However, amidst the conflicts surrounding GI ownership between neighboring countries, there are opportunities for regional cooperation and fostering goodwill through diplomatic channels and adherence to international norms. Through fostering productive discussions, upholding the rights of creators, and striving for mutually advantageous outcomes, countries can discuss and remove the misperceptions regarding the ownership of products. For example, the recent Bangladesh-India issue over Tangail Saree also marks a considerable development through which, characterizing it as a ‘strategic move’ the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina clarified and stated that ‘I have opted to don the Tangail saree to assert its ownership and refute any claims made by others.’ However, the DPDT in Bangladesh, which falls under the Ministry of Industry, has officially designated the Tangail sarees as the country’s Geographical Indication (GI) product. Considering the strong diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and India, a peaceful resolution to the matter can be achieved through their longstanding friendship.

Contributions of GI Products to Economic Diplomacy of Bangladesh

Geographical Indication (GI) products have become a valuable asset for Bangladesh, allowing it to showcase its cultural heritage, strengthen international ties, and boost its global reputation through economic diplomacy. With a keen understanding of the political landscape, Bangladesh can strategically position itself as a nation dedicated to preserving its cultural heritage while driving sustainable economic growth and development through its GI-certified products.

However, GI products represent the rich cultural heritage of Bangladesh, showcasing the unique blend of geography, tradition, and artisanal skills. By highlighting these products on an international platform, the nation can effectively express its cultural identity. This particular approach to cultural diplomacy goes beyond economic factors and reaches into the realm of soft power, allowing Bangladesh to foster a favorable global reputation and exert influence. Also, with GI certification, Bangladesh can now tap into the increasing global demand for genuine, top-notch, and ethically produced goods, opening up exciting new opportunities. With a focus on maintaining the authenticity and uniqueness of its GI-certified products, Bangladesh has the potential to secure higher prices in global markets. This would not only boost export earnings but also contribute significantly to the country’s overall economic growth.

Moreover, the premium pricing associated with GI products not only benefits producers, artisans, and businesses but also has a ripple effect on the broader economy. It creates employment opportunities, fosters entrepreneurship, and stimulates economic activities in rural and marginalized communities where many of these products originate. This, in turn, can contribute to inclusive growth aligning with Bangladesh’s development goals and economic diplomacy objectives. Furthermore, many GI-certified products in Bangladesh, such as the iconic Jamdani sari, Hilsa fish, and Rajshahi silk, are deeply intertwined with the livelihoods and cultural identities of rural and indigenous communities. By providing legal protection, market access, and fair pricing for these products, Bangladesh can foster inclusive economic growth while simultaneously safeguarding the livelihoods and cultural heritage of these communities.

Future Directions

As Bangladesh continues to navigate the intricate landscape of GI products and economic diplomacy, several key areas require focused attention and strategic planning to fully harness the potential of this powerful tool. To assert its rightful claims over traditional products and safeguard its intellectual property rights, Bangladesh must undertake a comprehensive inventory and documentation exercise. This process should involve extensive research, consultation with stakeholders, and the collection of historical evidence to establish the origins and unique characteristics of the country’s cultural and agricultural products. While Bangladesh has established a legal framework for GI protection, efforts must be made to strengthen enforcement mechanisms and enhance the capacity of relevant authorities to effectively combat counterfeiting and misrepresentation. In addition, to fully capitalize on the economic and diplomatic benefits of GI products, Bangladesh must develop comprehensive branding and marketing strategies.

In conclusion, the journey towards harnessing the full potential of GI products for economic diplomacy in Bangladesh is a multifaceted and ongoing endeavor. While significant progress has been made in recognizing and promoting the country’s unique cultural and agricultural offerings, there is still room for growth and improvement. Through the adoption of innovative strategies, utilization of digital platforms, and commitment to sustainable practices, Bangladesh has the potential to secure the future and international recognition of its GI products. These products can serve as powerful symbols of the country’s cultural heritage and play a significant role in driving economic growth.

– Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Daily Sun [Link]