Geographical Indications (GIs) can be seen as a way of giving consumers more information about the provenance of niche food products, but they can also be seen as protectionist instruments. The EU has the most GIs in the world (makes the Americans suspicious) but they are concentrated in the south of the EU.
In the Journal of Agricultural Economics Martijn Hysmans and Johan Swinnen explore this phenomenon. They set out a series of hypotheses for further testing, although some already look more likely runners than others.
Historically, GIs were first developed in the EU wine sector. 89 per cent of wine GI are to be found in the south of Europe, but southern member states also account for 70 per cent of food GIs (excluding wine).
H1 relates to better and more differentiated food in the south, but there is little evidence to support this (and see the discussion of Scotland below). There may be some evidence for H2 that more GIs are to be found in regions with low productivity, leading to protectionist lobbying. H3 is that globalisation may have an effect, although I would word it rather differently in terms of resistance to globalisation by informed consumers leading to a search for authentic local products.
H4 is that the decline of traditional protectionist instruments may lead to their substitution for new instruments. But why particularly GIs?
I found H5 and H6 on spillover effects persuasive. Economic spillover relates to the use of the knowledge and capabilities derived from the development of wine GIs. H6 relates to the political capacity to design successful lobbying strategies.
No Terroir in the Cold? But what about Scotland?
A farm on Sanday in Orkney which, as the name implies, has particularly good topsoils.
Scotland is one of the more northerly places in the EU, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. There are currently 15 GIs in Scotland. Four are cheeses and three are fish products and, of course, Scotch whisky is there. Four are from the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, three from Orkney. Orkney has a very well organised farming community with its own farming magazine (Orkney Farmer) and was a pioneer in relation to action on the cattle disease, BDV.
One of the products from Orkney that has a GI is cheddar cheese ('Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar') which might often be regarded as a commodity product. However, the cheese has its own special method of production: Our tradition
There has been concern that Brexit might threaten the system of GIs seen as key to the success of traditional food and drink products in Scotland: Scottish Parliament. In particular, there has been concern that a future trade deal with the US might threaten GIs.