France has champagne. Scotland has scotch whiskey. Cuba has Cuban cigars. These are all geographical indications (GI). A geographic indication, as defined by the Intellectual Property Office, is “any sign or symbol that identifies goods as emanating from any specific region or location of a country that gives the goods its known quality, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that region or locality.” With all the conversations Business Day has had lately about local cocoa and chocolate, we wanted to know if government was exploring gaining international recognition and GI status for our cocoa. And the simple answer is, yes.
Though ExporTT, the Ministry of Trade and Industry continues to provide targeted assistance to develop the cocoa industry. The Montserrat Cocoa Farmers’ Co-operative Society was provided with a grant to support their efforts to gain international recognition for their intellectual property through GI registration for Trinidad Montserrat Hills Cocoa. Given the unique qualities and flavour, a geographical indication will provide product differentiation and increase competitiveness internationally. This benefit will also transfer to the users of the GI branded cocoa in their downstream industries. Other certification and compliance requirements were also supported by ExporTT for cocoa companies including Cocoa Republic, Tobago Cocoa Estate WI, Trinidad Chocolate Factory and Caribbean Exotic Mountain Pride.
Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said, “Our trinitario cocoa remains one of the world’s premier grade cocoa beans, and is highly regarded for its superior flavour profile. While found all over the world, the genetic diversity of the cocoa grown locally has earned international recognition at various international cocoa awards.” And she’s right. TT Fine Cocoa Co (TTFCC) received two Academy of Chocolate Silver awards in 2017. Cocoa Republic was a Caribbean finalist in the International Chocolate Awards at the 2017 Americas competition. Tobago Estate Chocolate was a first place in the European Bar semi-finals in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2017. “These firms have demonstrated that the earning potential of cocoa lies in the value added. It is therefore imperative that greater investment in premium chocolate production is promoted.”
Gopee-Scoon sees massive potential in our cocoa especially when it comes to attaining a protected geographic indication. “We assisted and supported through ExporTT, the Montserrat Cocoa Farmers Cooperative Society. We gave them a grant to contribute to them gaining international recognition for their intellectual property through this geographic indication registration. When you have that identification, you will fetch that higher price for tour product. It’s also product differentiation that you’re looking at and that’s what gives you your competitiveness internationally as well. When it comes to GI, this the first one that we are doing.”
And this product differentiation comes from the actual origin of the product and it’s natural uniqueness and then the innovation that backs it up. Gopee-Scoon described the Moruga Agro-Processing agro facility as a centre to do exactly that. “It is key to signal to all these farmers, especially those in the areas where value added means something, where agro processing means something, It’s where the money is, so it’s not just about growing and selling in the market and so but it’s about turning it into another product and this is why we have this facility in Moruga, which is a traditional farming area. The idea is to create the interest in agro-processing and agri-business.” She added the facility would be ready by the end of July into August. It signals the opportunities that are there. “With the park, we are creating the economic space to convert farming into industry, because we are seeing that this is where we are going to get valuable exports, like chocolate.”