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Keywords:

  • geographical indications;
  • agriculture;
  • developing countries;
  • TRIPS

In debates in the World Trade Organization over the protection of geographical indications (GIs), the European Union (EU) has framed its position in terms of the potential for GIs to protect local cultures, offer a quality guarantee to consumers, and provide opportunities for value-added agriculture. A key tenet of the EU's argument is that GI schemes can be successfully implemented in developing countries as well as Europe. However, my analysis of the case of tequila shows that GIs in developing countries face unique challenges. Tequila is the oldest GI outside of Europe, and is often cited as an example of a successful GI in a developing country. Despite obvious successes in terms of its market share, however, the GI for tequila has largely failed to benefit the local population and environment. My examination of the tequila case illustrates how, throughout the history of the evolving GI legislation for tequila, influential actors have manipulated production standards in ways that contradict the theoretical concept of a GI and negatively affect the overall quality of tequila. I situate this case within the larger framework of international legislation on GIs, arguing that higher standards and a more context-specific approach are necessary.