Japan's Kobe beef, premium melons get brand protection

TOKYO -- Champagne, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Gorgonzola cheese are to be joined by Kobe beef and eye-wateringly expensive Yubari melons as protected products after Japan Tuesday granted them a special status.

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A total of seven products including Kobe beef and the melons from the northern of island of Hokkaido were added to a list of Japanese geographical indications, the farm ministry said.

With the designation, anyone who uses the registered brands without permission could face penalties.

"We'll promote the registration of geographic indications and increase demand (for premium farm products) inside and outside Japan," Hiroshi Moriyama, agriculture minister, told a press conference.

The World Intellectual Property Organization on its website defines a geographical indication as "a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin".

The government hopes to boost exports of made-in-Japan premium agriculture products as local farmers could face competition from cheaper imports with the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.

Under the deal, most tariffs were to be eliminated or slashed on everything from beef, dairy products, wine, sugar, rice, horticulture and seafood through to manufactured products, resources and energy.

Yuji Funatsu, head of the agricultural cooperative in the city of Yubari that applied for a geographic indication, told AFP ahead of the announcement that earning such a designation means "quite a lot of pressure" to maintain quality.

Yubari melons are considered a status symbol in Japan -- something akin to a fine wine -- with many being bought for high prices as a gift for friends and colleagues.

A single pair of the melons fetched 1.5 million yen ($12,400) at an auction in Japan in May.

The best-quality Yubari melons are perfect spheres with a smooth, evenly patterned rind.

Funatsu, who has been a melon farmer for more than 30 years, said maintaining quality and brand is not easy, adding Yubari melons are a "high-maintenance fruit".

In addition to Kobe beef and Yubari melons, Yamecha green tea from Fukuoka prefecture, cassis from Aomori, Hyogo's Tajima-gyu cattle -- some of which become Kobe beef -- pumpkins from Ibaraki and black vinegar from Kagoshima also received geographic indications, the ministry said.



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