Jampro joins efforts to protect Jamaican coffee brands
All Japan Coffee Roasters Association tour leader and Chairman Kojiro Hagihara (left) shares a jokewith Norman Grant, chairman of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association, and Jamaica PromotionsPresident Diane Edwards at last week's welcome and appreciation dinner for the visiting Japanesedelegation at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston.

JAMAICA is seeking geographical indication (GI) from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to protect the country's Blue Mountain coffee brand from counterfeiting activities globally.

The issue has been top of agenda for the Jamaica Coffee Exporters' Association (JCEA), the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) — which is the commodity board for the industry — and now Jamaica Promotions (Jampro), which falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF).

Jampro's President Dianne Edwards told a welcome dinner for a visiting team of Japan Coffee Roasters Association (JCRA) members at Knutsford Court Hotel last week that the pending GI registration would protect the integrity of the world-renowned Jamaican brands, and preserve their value internationally.

She said that it is among a raft of initiatives, currently in the pipeline, to grow the island's coffee industry, including the development of new coffee products and expanded production. She noted that the GI was critical, as it would map the areas and elevations that would qualify the coffee produced in Jamaica as genuine Blue Mountain Coffee.

“When persons purchase a package labelled Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee, we want them to enjoy the genuine amazing taste that it is known for,” she explained.

In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Jamaica would benefit from the fact that, since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.

Earlier this month, JACRA informed the public that it would be teaming with the National Compliance and Regulatory Authority and the Major Organized Crime Authority to undertake a major enforcement drive to blunt the pervasive distribution and sale of counterfeit coffee purported to be authentic Jamaican premium coffee brands Blue Mountain and High Mountain coffee.

JACRA, which was established two years ago to regulate the processing and trade of Jamaica's coffee, coconut, cocoa, and spices, estimates that the sector is losing millions of dollars to the illegal trade, largely through the misrepresentation of the coffee.

In addition, the counterfeit products, which are reportedly often of substandard quality, pose a serious threat to the integrity and reputation of genuine Jamaican specialty products — Jamaica Blue Mountain and Jamaica High Mountain coffee.

JACRA said that it has tried to use moral suasion and strident appeals for offending parties to adhere to good corporate governance and to cease and desist from this practice, but to no avail.

“These enterprises know themselves and are familiar with the methods, including trademarks and labelling standards, that can be used to assure the authenticity of the products and help to determine that only genuine products are marketed,” a release from JACRA said.

“Given the real and potential damage to the regulated agricultural commodities sector, the anti-competitive effect of the illicit trade and its negative impact on the welfare of farmers and investors, JACRA must act and we will apply the full letter of the law, including the seizure of the contraband and the application of other enforcement measures,” the authority stated.

Continuing her speech to the Japanese traders, Edwards said that, in addition to seeking the WIPO intervention, 200 coffee farmers from communities in the Blue Mountain areas of St Andrew are to benefit from the distribution of 50,000 coffee seedlings, with the establishment of the Blue Mountain Coffee Nursery.

The nursery was funded by the Japanese Embassy at a cost of $11 million, and the project, which has been implemented by JACRA, is also being assisted by the Ueshima Coffee Company of Japan.

“Jamaica also aims to expand production of High Mountain and Lowland coffees in order to diversify exports, and to support this, we are working to improve the quality of our coffee,” Edwards said.

Hit by a combination of drought, poor farm roads, lower prices, insufficient mechanisation, and farmer apathy, among other factors, the measures are expected to revive production levels and inject new life into the coffee farming sector. Japan is Jamaica's largest importer of Blue Mountain coffee, absorbing 70 to 90 per cent of exports.

Turning to the issue of creating added value to Jamaica's coffee production, Edwards said that in conjunction with partners, such as the JCEA and JACRA, Jampro was pushing to develop new coffee products “to excite millennials”and grow the market internationally.

“Within the last 10 years, coffee exports averaged approximately US$20 million per annum, but we know this is an underperformance. Jamaica can produce and export more coffee for markets all over the world, including our major partner Japan,” she added.

Welcoming guests to the dinner, chairman of the JCEA Norman Grant said the association is aiming at supplying a minimum of US$30 million in coffee for export yearly.

“Our focus is on sustainable quality and sustainable price,” Grant said.

He urged the Japanese guests, which included coffee roasters and coffee shop owners, to prepare to buy more Jamaican coffee in the future.

Grant also noted that the delegation from Japan represented the first major visit in 15 years from Japanese coffee stakeholders, and invited them to celebrate Blue Mountain Coffee Day in Jamaica next year in January. He also thanked them for maintaining their high regard for Jamaica's Blue Mountain and High Mountain coffee.

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