When is Champagne really Champagne? Was that Tequila actually produced in Tequila, Mexico? Were the grapes in that Malborough Sauvignon Blanc really grown in Malborough? Fortunately all of these questions can be answered thanks to geographical indicators.

A geographical indication (GI) is any sign or symbol used on a good to denote its origin where a specific quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to that specific region or location in a country. Those examples of GIs are all products associated with certain regions, and are well-known and trusted for their quality, nature and authenticity.  

As a member of the World Trade Organisation, New Zealand is party to the TRIPS Agreement.  Under that Agreement, members must provide protection for GIs against use that misleads consumers as to the true origin of the goods, or use that amounts to unfair competition. GIs for wines and spirits are afforded even broader protection, such that use of a GI with the words “kind”, “like” or “style” is not allowed.

In New Zealand GIs are primarily protected by the Fair Trading Act 1986, the Trade Marks Act 2002 and the common law tort of passing off.  In 2006 the government enacted the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 (Act), however it is not yet in force. The Act provides a registration process for GIs in relation to wine and spirits, and sets out restrictions on use of GIs in New Zealand.  

In December 2014, the government agreed to implement the Act. In order to do so, the Geographical Indications (Wines and Spirits) Registration Amendment Bill (Bill) was introduced into Parliament in November 2015 to address issues identified with the Act. As part of this process in July the government released an exposure draft of the regulations and fee schedule seeking public submissions on the proposed regulations and fees required to implement the Act.  Proposals included having a fixed registration term of 10 years with a right of renewal, a restriction on registration if use of the GI would be likely to offend a significant section of the community, including Māori, and that in respect of New Zealand GIs for wine 85% of the wine must come from the GI and the remainder from any other region in New Zealand.

The submission period has now closed and the public submissions are available to be read, before the Bill has its second reading in the House. The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand has indicated that the amended Act is expected to come into force in 2017.