Ceylon Cinnamon on verge of obtaining geographical indications; a first for Sri Lanka

Friday, 28 January 2022 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Ceylon Cinnamon will obtain Sri Lanka’s first geographical indications (GI) in the coming week. Below are the long and arduous actions taken to achieve this.

In the middle of the 1990’s, when the NIPO Act was being formulated, the Ceylon Cinnamon Association (CCA) managed to get Ceylon Cinnamon protected as GI along with Tea & Blue Sapphires.

The then Minister of Trade late Kingsley T. Wickramaratne readily accepted our request seeing the potential of GI for Sri Lankan products. We are grateful to him.

This was during the period of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which is the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property. Unfortunately, it is not active at present.

On the advice of Dr. Harsha Cabraal PC we informed all exporters through CCA, The Spice Council (TSC) and SAPPTA to mark all their exported Cinnamon products as ‘Ceylon Cinnamon’ in every package. M.C.M. Zarook, Varuni Kariyakarawana and I worked on this extensively.

In 2005/2006, CCA, TSC and I were instrumental in getting assistance from the German Aid Agency (GTZ) along with The Spice Council to establish ISO 22000-certified Cinnamon Processing factories - five in the Galle District, four in the Matara District, and one in Ratnapura. We promoted the cinnamon produced in these factories as U10 in the overseas markets.

With Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, CCA and TSC was instrumental along with EDB to establish 20 medium GMP and HACCP-certified cinnamon processing centres.

CCA, The Spice Council, Sappta worked with Gothami Indikadehena of DOC, Dr. Neville Gunawardena of Customs, and Nalika Koddikara of EDB on the separation/Bifurcation of Cinnamon from Cassia in H.S. Codes.

Late Dr. R.O.B. Wijesekera did the scientific paper to differentiate cinnamon from cassia. Prof. Jayasiri Lankage gave the historical background, and I gave industry perspective. I wish to place on record the sincere thanks profusely on behalf of the cinnamon industry to Gothami Indikadehena and Dr. Neville Gunawardena of Customs, who worked diligently to do the bifurcation of cinnamon from cassia in 2005 and legal effect from 2007. 

This unanimous decision at the World Custom Organisation is very rare, and this was all due to the lobbying by Dr. Neville Gunawaredna of Sri Lanka Customs.

In 2007, I was invited to address the World Spice Congress, American Spice Traders Association (ASTA) Centenary Sessions and Celebrations 2007 in Laguna Nigel – Los Angeles. I made presentations on Cinnamon at the World Spice Congress numerous times and chaired many sessions of the International Pepper Community’s annual meetings. In 2007, I addressed the European Spice Association (ESA) annual sessions in Munich – Germany; D. A. Perera, too, accompanied me. We lobbied the European buyers and informed them of the very high presence of Coumarine in Cassia which is carcinogenic.

This lobbying by ASTA and ESA and the bifurcation of cinnamon and cassia in 2007 and action taken by Exporters, TSC/DOC/Customs/EDB resulted in the average prices increasing from $ 6 to almost $10 per Kg.

In our NIPO law, there is no separate or special section on protecting GI, and no local register at present, mentions that Ceylon Cinnamon, tea, and blue sapphires are protected as GI’s. DG NIPO has taken steps to amend the NIPO act. UNIDO provided consultants for the process and was funded by the EU.

DG NIPO Dr. Karunaratne, Gothami Indikadehena of DOC, EDB Legal Office’s Prof. Jayasiri Lankage, EDB Legal Officers and I worked on getting the Lion Logo certification mark for Ceylon Cinnamon. The Lion logo was launched by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and later at Anuga – Germany.

In 2013, CCA, TSC and I approached the WTO Standards and Trade Development Facility, UNIDO and FAO for assistance on GI. They provided us funding to visit the European Union (EU) and the World Trade Organisation to meet with their officials and study the process of GI. Brussels Embassy officials and FAO GI Consultant Dominique Barjolle arranged these meetings.

EDB Legal officers, UNIDO officials and I met the European Union GI Department, Development Department, Department of Agriculture, Health and Photo-Sanitary Department in Brussels. We also met with IP Lawyer Bernard O’Conner who had done the Darjeeling Tea GI from India. 

In Geneva, Barjolle and I met WTO, WIPO, ITC and Origin, Diversity and Territories Organisation officials. EU and UNIDO were extensive in their various actions taken towards GI. So much so that the European Ambassador to Sri Lanka, who was on holiday in the Netherlands came to Brussels to attend the main meetings in our support.

This was followed up with FAO GI Consultant Dominique Barjolle visiting Sri Lanka and meeting all relevant actors of the cinnamon value chain and developing a comprehensive road map to obtain GI for Ceylon Cinnamon.

Unfortunately, Government officials wanted to have the GI under the total control of the Government authorities. Therefore, the application to the EU was made by EDB.

We retained the lawyer Bernard O’Conner, and we are thankful to our then ambassador to WTO for obtaining the cost of the legal fees of the lawyer from the Common Fund for Commodities, and the balance was funded by EDB.

Like-minded actors with decades of experience in the Cinnamon Industry started work on developing the specifications and application with EDB legal officers. Not many, other than Prof. Jayasiri Lankage, one or two others and I, attended most meetings. GI is given to group producers or their representative.

It took us nearly three years for us to persuade these officials to form the Ceylon Cinnamon GI Association. This was facilitated by UNIDO.

Even in Cambodia, Kampot pepper association, only private members are office bearers and there are no government officials. Government and EU fully funded and supported it. (http://www.kampotpepper.biz).

The UNIDO, EDB & DEA with all stakeholders finalised the specifications and specifications and application. We had a series of producer meetings in the districts of Galle, Matara, Kalutara and Rathnapura organised by EDB/DEA/TSC/CTA/CCGIA, and funded by EDB.

Since there were delays from the EU GI office, I went to Brussels in May 2019 and met with Ambassador Perera and Lawyer O’Conner in the presence of Shirani Ariyaratne and discussed the need to speed up the process.

O’Conner, Shirani Ariyaratne and I had a meeting with the Head of GI Unit. At this meeting, they informed us of the deficiencies in the application and specification.

O’Conner and I were able to clarify most matters, and the lawyer agreed to make the certain changes to be in line with the EU GI regulation. After I came back, the stakeholders were consulted and the document explaining the clarification was sought. For example, the EU wanted to know the product life of cinnamon leaf and bark oil etc.

Shirani Ariyaratne and I met DG AGRI, EC and discussed future corporation and training needs for cinnamon value chain actors.

We had a meeting with J.C. Virieu International Aid/Cooperation Officer – Development Coordination – Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives/Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, EC. At this meeting, we stressed the need for the current EU funding program to be implemented through UNIDO and ITC to continue till at least the end of 2021. (This EU project was to end in September 2019). 

They agreed to recommend to the EU to continue the program with no additional budget. The program was continued and ended in February 2021. This project EU – UNIDO helped a lot in the whole Ceylon Cinnamon GI Project.

In February 2020, J.C. Virieu, Raffaele Schiassi of EU – Brussels, and Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Program Manager – Cooperation Section Harshini Halangode visited the Cinnamon Training Academy (CTA), where we were able to show you the cinnamon plantation, training facility, training modules and the operation of a bought tree factory. The GMP booklet was emailed to them as requested. 

They were very pleased to see how we had utilised the funding for CTA and the cinnamon GI. We canvassed for assistance for both the CTA and GI in the next round of EU funding to be implemented through UNIDO/FAO/GTZ from 2022 onwards.

Now most of the work has been done, the traceability scheme has been developed with QR code by 99x software developers, totally funded by the EU and facilitated by UNIDO. The control plan as per specifications within NVQ has been developed by Control Union, EDB, UNIDO and CCGIA. There are some differences between government officials and CCGIA.

Most buyers now insist on the three P’s. That is the certification of ‘Product, Process and Personal’ – Product standard, Process and Personal certification with NVQ qualifications.

Budgets for the GI Association were prepared by EDB/CCGIA/UNIDO and were presented to the national budget by EDB for years 2019, 2020, 2021. No funding whatsoever has been given to the CCGIA to do its work with producers and value chain actors.

We believe the Government must provide the initial funding required to run the association, train growers, actors of the value chain and most importantly promote and protect the GI’s. After the initial few years, the association would generate sufficient funds to develop the GI’s further. 

Over the last decade, I have continuously travelled and met EU, WTO, STDF, WIPO officials regarding Ceylon Cinnamon GI, especially to Vienna/Geneva on almost a yearly basis and to Brussels four times. I have been invited on three occasions to the WTO Aid for Trade Conferences where I was the speaker on Ceylon Cinnamon. On two of these occasions, we had Ceylon Cinnamon product promotion. Product promotions were supported by UNIDO and WTO-STDF.

I wish to thank CCA, TSC, EDB, DOC, NIPO, DEA, UNIDO, WTO-STDF, WIPO and EU officials for the assistance given.

The roles played by President Hon. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardena, Minister of Plantations, Ramesh Pathirana, and Minister of Export Crops Janaka Wakkumbura have helped immensely.

The writer is the Chairman – Ceylon Cinnamon Geographical Indication Association, Ceylon Cinnamon Association, Cinnamon Training Academy and Founder and Emeritus Chairman of Spice Council of Sri Lanka.

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