New EU-Switzerland GI agreement enters into force

Under Swiss and EU law, if there is a link between the characteristics of a product and its geographical origin, the product may be protected by a designation or appellation of origin (DO or AO) or, at least, by a geographical indication (GI).
The Agreement between the European Union and the Swiss Confederation on the protection of designations of origin and geographical indications for agricultural products and foodstuffs, dated September 13 2011, entered into force on December 1 2011 (see systematic collection of Swiss federal statutes 0.916.026.81). The new agreement amends the existing Agreement between the European Community and the Swiss Confederation on trade in agricultural products (the so-called 'Agricultural Agreement' of 1999) by adding certain agricultural products. 
Under Swiss law (see the Ordinance on the protection of designations of origin and geographical indications for agricultural products of May 28 1997, collection 910.12) and EU law (Regulation 510/2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs), there are two levels of protection:
  • DO/AO - a DO may be registered for foodstuffs produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how (eg, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and Vacherin Mont d’Or). The necessary link with the geographical area is thus very strong.
  • GI - on the other hand, a GI indicates a link with the area in at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation (eg,Turrón de Alicante and Saucisson Vaudois). The link with the area is thus weaker.
The new Annex 12 of the agreement contains additional lists of protected DOs and GIs of Switzerland and the European Union. In view of the difference in size between the Swiss and EU territories, the Swiss list is much shorter (22 items, as opposed to over 800) and contains, among others: Gruyère, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Vacherin Mont d’Or, Sbrinz (all DOs for cheese) and Bündnerfleisch (Grisons meat). Emmentaler is not included since it is considered as a geographical indication in Switzerland, but not in the European Union. Wine is already covered by the old list in the 1999 Agricultural Agreement.
The legal effect of DO/GI protection is defined by Swiss and EU laws (see Article 13 of Regulation 510/2006). The general rule is that registered names will be protected against any direct or indirect commercial use in respect of products not covered by the registration insofar as those products are comparable to the products registered under the registered name, or insofar as using the name exploits the reputation of the protected name.
In this context, it may be noted that, on April 29 2010, Switzerland also concluded a bilateral treaty on the same topic with Russia (
Peter Heinrich, Streichenberg Attorneys at law, Zurich

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