The Impact of Geographical Indications on the Relationships between Producers and Agri-Food Corporations: A Case of Powdered Green Tea in Japan

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Kae SEKINE, Aichi Gakuin University, Japan
In recent years, a number of Asian countries have introduced new legislation on geographical indications (GIs), coinciding with an increasing adoption of trade agreements and a more general tendency toward market liberalization. Following this trend, Japan also introduced the Geographical Indication Act in 2015 based on corresponding European Union schemes of Geographical Indication. This act promises the revitalization of declining local agriculture and rural communities, the support of traditional practices and food cultures and the increase of exports of local traditional agri-food products. This legislation is also likely to affect the relationships between agricultural producers of GI products and agri-food corporations that purchase, process, sell and occasionally export those products. This raises the question of how the systematization of the GI policies will impact existing relations of power between these actors, will it lead to more equal or democratic relations, or rather shift the balance in favor of one party?

Employing the case of powdered green tea or “Matcha” produced in Nishio City, Prefecture of Aichi in Japan, the paper probes the manner in which GI systems influence this relationship and whether these systems contribute to processes of democratization. The relevance of the case rests on the fact that, on the one hand, local aging, small-scale green tea leave farm operators and their cooperatives face the consequences of the agricultural crisis and, on the other, transnational agri-food corporations produce powdered green tea for food industries and the international market. In an era in which “Matcha” Latte is a globally consumed commodity in ubiquitous Starbucks’ coffee shops, the paper discusses what potential roles the newly introduced GI system in Japan can play as a tool for the development and democratization of agriculture and heritage food.