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French firm loses bid to own Africa’s ‘Rooibos’ trademark

A.02.08.10.14.African Rooibos(GIN) — South African tea planters won a major victory over European and U.S. tea dealers recently. They defeated efforts by a French firm to gain control of the name “Rooibos” — a popular tea that grows in South Africa — by trademarking it abroad.

 Under the agreement, Rooibos, which means “red bush” in Afrikaans, will refer to tea grown in the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape where it’s been farmed for generations.

 The indigenous shrub-like plant is known for its health benefits, sweet taste and other uses. These include herbal teas, fruit juices and other foodstuffs, as well as health and beauty products.

 It is also known for its anti-ageing potential and proven skin protection properties. South Africa produces about 15,000 tons of rooibos a year, half of which is exported and the rest consumed locally.

The fight over rooibos began in 2004 when a U.S. company registered Rooibos as a brand name. South Africa could not even export its own rooibos unless it was called “rooibush.” The matter was since settled.

 Then, last year, the Compagnie de Trucy of France tried to take exclusive ownership of the rooibos name. But they met stiff resistance from the South African Rooibos Council and their bid was rejected this week by the European Union’s Dept. of Trade and Industry.

 “It will be the rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa who will have ownership of that particular name,” said Rob Davies, South Africa’s trade and industry minister, “and that term will be applicable only to products that come from and are approved by us.”

 Similar status is already enjoyed by the likes of champagne, Darjeeling tea and Colombian coffee.

 With this decision, trademark protection will also apply to honeybush, another tea indigenous to the Cape region, and Karoo lamb, the South African Press Association reported. The same criteria could also apply to products from other countries of the Southern African region — such as Mozambican prawns, Botswana beef and Namibian oysters.

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