[This is the keynote address at the launching of the First Mindanao Collective Trademark or the MCT System on June 21, 2016.]
Dear Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, MinDA Chairperson.
Dear Undersecretary Janet Lopoz, MinDA Executive Director.
Friends from the private sector.
Members of the press.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to be with you today to launch the first Mindanao Collective Trademark in Davao City.
Quality Labels are now the norm for producers seeking recognition beyond their area of production. Such labels carry a message of quality, reliability and are increasingly sought after by consumers. In Europe, quality labels are often rooted in the tradition of the land. They encompass not only technical specifications but also a degree of historical heritage. Such quality labels are grouped under what is called “Geographical Indications” or GIs.
There are currently 1349 GI products in Europe. Champagne wine and Prosciutto di Parma ham are among the most glamorous of them. These products benefit from a strong protection from the legislator. Their distinct features are recognized under the European law. This in turn allows producers to place on the market a unique, high quality product with great visibility. In recent years, the sales value of GI products in the EU represented more than €50 billion. Interestingly, such products covered just about 6 percent of all agri-food and drink products but their recognized quality means they made up 15 percent of all food and beverage exports from the EU.
GI products are not only found in Europe. Few people know that GI are a powerful marketing instrument for Asean products as well. There are currently 162 GI products registered in Asean, more or less equally distributed among Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Many of them are well known to those of you who travel in the region – batik from Sabah, coffee from Dah Lak Province in Vietnam, silk from Talasin Province in Thailand. Sadly though, no GI product has been registered in the Philippines yet. I believe this has nothing to do with the diversity of traditional agricultural or food products. In Mindanao alone, products deeply rooted in the history and culture of the island include traditional weaving, pomelos, cocoa and chocolate among others. Instead, the limiting factor is the time it takes to develop a solid regulatory framework that protects producers and incentivizes cooperatives and label owners such as MindA to come up with their own Geographical Indications. The EU has assisted DTI and the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines in their efforts to list down potential candidates for a GI label. Two groups of producers are currently receiving assistance in community organization and drafting of technical specifications. They might become the first GI products in the Philippines. Can anyone here guess what these products are? One is in fact in Mindanao. It is the tinalak textile traditionally produced by the T’boli tribewomen in South Cotabato. It is made from natural abaca fibers and dyed using extracts of tree bark, roots and leaves. I am told the intricate design of the tinalak textile even reflects the dreams of the weaver! The second product is found in Central Philippines, on the island of Guimaras. Guimaras mangoes need no introduction. They probably contributed to the Philippines’ place in the Guinness Book of Records back in 1995 for having the sweetest mangoes in the world. I took the time to visit the association of mango producers myself last February and can assure you not only of the sweetness of their mangoes but also of the professionalism and dedication of their group. Guimaras mangoes are indeed renowned the world over… but also often imitated in an attempt to fool consumers. For the same reason and to keep Guimaras mangoes distinguishable from lower quality products, protection is needed through a specific quality and origin label owned and managed by Guimaras producers. The EU will continue to support this initiative and hopes to see the first generation of Geographic Indications in the Philippines very soon together with the first Mindanao Collective Trademark. Quality enhancement through product specific GIs or multi product labels such as the Mindanao Collective Trademark have a real potential to boost the competitiveness of a region.
Form a broader trade policy perspective, the EU also extended in 2014 unprecedented trade preferences to the Philippines under the GSP+ scheme. It means that more than 6,000 products are now allowed into the EU at zero tariffs. No other Asean country is currently a beneficiary of GSP+ giving the Philippines – and Mindanao – a decisive advantage in the region when trading with Europe. The latest available statistics indicate that exports of animal products under GSP+ increased by 157% in the first half of 2015, fish by 41% and prepared foodstuffs by 72%. This has huge implications for Mindanao whose exports to the EU are dominated by coconut oil, fish and pineapples – three products which make up 70% of total exports to the EU when combined together.
Of course, our support to economic development in Mindanao is not limited to trade and trademark protection. The EU is currently the number one contributor to the multi-donor Mindanao Trust Fund – Reconstruction and Development Program (MTF) administered by the World Bank. The fund provides resources for the recovery of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Through the Mindanao Trust Fund (a) nearly 50,000 individuals have been provided with health, education and livelihoods programs; (b) 84,000 have better market access due to road construction; (c) over 140,000 have reported increased income due to post-harvest facilities and fishing implements; (d) 120,000 people have direct access to safe and potable water; (e) nearly 200,000 have benefited from community centers and shelters. Overall, it is estimated that half a million individuals (half of whom are women) have benefitted from the trust fund. The fund was established in 2005 and will run until mid-2017. The EU together with its member state Sweden contributed more than 70% of its $28.8 million budget.
Last, I would like to mention our contribution to peace in Mindanao. I don’t believe economic development would be possible without stability and peace.
In 2010 the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front invited the European Union to be part on the International Monitoring Team and since then we have funded its Civilian Protection Component and we have fielded a Human Rights Expert.
Over the years the EU support to the Peace Process expanded as we have demonstrated to be a reliable and neutral partner.
Currently, the EU continues to contribute to peace building and conflict mitigation through monitoring the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro by supporting the monitoring mechanisms as agreed by the two Parties. This includes not only the funding to the just mentioned International Monitoring Team but also the functioning of the Third Party Monitoring Team Chaired by the former EU Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald and supporting the presence of the NGO Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in the International Contact Group.
We have also been a flexible and prompt partner: in 2015, in response to displacement due to armed conflict in Maguindanao, the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (ECHO) made €2.1 million available for the provision of life-saving relief items to the most vulnerable individuals as well as management and arrangement of services at evacuation sites. Food assistance was provided to 24,000 households in the conflict-affected areas. ECHO also provided humanitarian assistance to families displaced in Zamboanga City where 10,000 houses were destroyed during the 2013 armed conflict. Our support was mostly in the form of food, livelihood assistance, health services and protection.
The EU offered more than just political and humanitarian support to Mindanao over the years.
Two aspects of our program in Mindanao are worth emphasizing. First, human rights. Human rights form part of EU’s fundamental values and as such were embedded in our Mindanao program from the beginning. Alongside the EU expert on Human Rights within the International Monitoring Team, €3.2 million are currently managed by local NGOs to protect human rights defenders and vulnerable groups subject to human right abuses. One example is our initiative to combat child labor in hazardous industries, in plantations and mining.
The second aspect is our contribution to participative development. The EU strengthens local institutions and the establishment of political processes through the non-partisan technical support to nascent political parties and the empowering women and youth leaders to participate in parliamentary governance. These projects promote community involvement and rely on the assumption that the peace process and economic development should be encompassing and inclusive in order to be successful.
Our contribution to peace in Mindanao does not end today. We still stand ready to share our experience in peacebuilding, drawing examples from successes notably in the EU neighborhood region.
The EU was there in the bad times. We hope to be there in good times too, when peace and economic growth – including through the development of quality trademarks – become the new normal in Mindanao.
On this note of hope, I wish the Mindanao Collective Trademark great success and thank you all for your attention.