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Implications for IP in the Australia-UK and Australia-European Free Trade Agreements 

The Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement

Last year, we wrote about the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) and what it could mean for intellectual property and trade in general in Australia. The agreement has since entered into force, on 31 May 2023. It ensured favourable commercial benefits to both countries, while also including some interesting and important implications for their IP systems.

Chapter 15 of the agreement concerns matters of intellectual property, including Australia’s commitment to efforts to join the Hague Agreement on Industrial Designs and new processes to allow artists from Australia to receive royalties when their work is utilised in England and vice versa. Both countries also committed to return to a contentious issue at a later date: geographical indications (GIs).

At this point in time Australia only has a dedicated GI register for wine/fortified wine, and not foodstuffs, other kinds of alcohol, or traditional methods of manufacture. However, a special kind of trade mark knowns as a certification mark can be filed with IP Australia, which can act as a GI for different goods. In contrast, the UK recognises longer lists of officially registered and protected GIs in different categories, managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The UK proposed for Australia to take on its list of GIs for protection, but currently Australia has no responsibility to protect the UK’s GIs or to introduce a GI system similar to the UK. the A-UKFTA included a commitment that both parties should return to this issue if Australia enters an agreement with another party that includes the adoption of that party’s GIs/GI system, with the intention to amend the agreement to include favourable treatment for the UK’s list of requested GIs.

Which brings us to now.

The Australia-European Free Trade Agreement

The Australia-European Free Trade Agreement is currently under negotiation, with GIs a major topic of discussion. The EU is another jurisdiction which recognises many more GIs as protectable than Australia, having submitted a list of requested GIs during negotiations.  

If Australia agrees to honour the EU’s GIs, Australia and the UK would reconvene to discuss Australia also adopting the UK’s recognised GIs into practice in Australia.  

At the time of writing, Australia has not agreed to adopting the EU’s GI system, but the EU has historically considered this an important issue in trade agreements, and it has been identified as a key objective for the EU in the FTA.

Negotiating round 15 for the Australia-European Free Trade Agreement concluded in April 2023, without reaching a conclusion on the deal.

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What Impact Could This Have in Australia?

If the EU’s list of GIs is accepted for protection in Australia, it could have some impacts on Australian businesses and producers. Some may have to rebrand their goods, which would incur costs as well as expose them to the possibility of loss of brand recognition.

However, an agreement would also be of great economic benefit to Australia. The A-UK FTA, for example, removed tariffs on over 90% of good exports from Australia to the UK. As the EU is a major trading partner for Australia, an agreement which opens up this massive market for cheaper and easier trade would be hugely commercially beneficial to Australian exporters.

We will provide an update after the next round of negotiations have been completed.

What now?

If you’re an Australian brand owner, producer, or exporter you may wish to look into how this potential agreement with the EU could impact your business. If you require advice on the possible ramifications of the Australia-European FTA in relation to geographical indicators, contact the Michael Buck IP trade marks team.