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Rooibos tea joins Champagne on EU protection list

In a significant development for the sector, the European Commission has approved the registration of the designation ‘Rooibos’/’Red Bush’ in its register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications.

Rooibos is the first African food to be approved by the EU for listing on the register.

Rooibos joins the EU’s list of other products with protected designation of origin, including Champagne, Irish Whiskey, roquefort, Kalamata olives, Porto and Queso Manchego, which can only be labelled accordingly if they come from their designated region.

Rooibos products can now use the EU’s logo to indicate authenticity and quality to European consumers.

The protected designation of origin (PDO) status, assigned to the tea or “red bush” late last month, means only leaves cultivated in South Africa’s southeast Cederberg region can be sold as “rooibos” in EU countries and several others outside the bloc.

The PDO status — meant to protect the name and authenticity of unique geographically-linked products — will allow producers to limit competition from a growing range of non-genuine rooibos teas that have appeared amid rising demand for the caffeine free, antioxidant-rich brew.

“It gives us the ability to market rooibos much more aggressively,” South African Rooibos Council director Nicie Vorster said.

The application for a special label was made a decade ago and marks a major “win” for the industry, he added.

South Africa produces an average of 15,000 tonnes of Rooibos per year, according to the council, mainly in the Cederberg’s rocky mountain range.

The reddish, needle-shaped leaves are fermented and brewed into a sweet earthy drink, widely popular among South Africans.

Rooibos leaves are also mixed with other teas for aromatic infusions, fitted into coffee capsules to make “red cappuccinos” and used as a base for beauty products.

Touted for its health benefits, rooibos has gained international popularity over the past two decades.

South Africa now exports around half its production in loose bulk to Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among others.

Vorster said the Rooibos Council was now planning to approach the World Trade Organization to extend the tea’s newly-found protection to the global market.

The EU “win puts us in a good step to achieve this,” he said.

Food products listed on the EU register of protected designations of origins generate almost R1.24tn in value. Bilateral agreements between EU and its international partners, including between EU and China, recognise the protected designations of origin.

Valuable competitive advantage

The Rooibos registration has also been hailed by the Western Cape government and the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa, stating that the listing will greatly benefit South African producers and rural communities.

“Rooibos is one of the most iconic products of the Western Cape and its inclusion in the PDO register will signal its unique quality to consumers, not only in Europe but all over the world,” says Western Cape Minister of Agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer.

“We expect that this will lead to an increase in demand by discerning consumers with the benefits working their way back to farms in the designated production area.”

Trade relations

According to the EU’s ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, “The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that solid trade relations are critical to ensuring the continuous and uninterrupted supply of safe, nutritious, affordable and sustainable food as well as to providing essential income and jobs along food value chains.

“This is why South Africa and EU preferential trade relations are so important.

“These relations include the protection of geographical indications which enable a stronger connection between unique local food products and European consumer tastes.

“This has direct benefits for all involved in South Africa and in the EU. Geographic indications offer a valuable competitive advantage that is difficult to erode, so we are delighted that Rooibos has been approved as the first African product on the EU register of protected designation of origin (PDO).”

Source: SA Rooibos Council

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