‘Sriracha’ sauce: is it what it says on the bottle?

This distinctive chilli sauce is gaining popularity among professional chefs and people who just enjoy their food. But what exactly is it?

Image: Si Racha coast; sauces from left: Sriraja Panich, Huy Fong/Rooster, Flying Goose, Three Mountains, Exotic Food (USA style)

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 29, 2023 | UPDATED MAY 31, 2023

Parts on the history of Sriracha sauce have been revised considerably (May 31, 2023) following further research into Thai-language material

Fancy a Japanese seafood omelette with “mayo spun through with sriracha”? Smoked cod head “doused in a sriracha emulsion”? How about McDonald’s sriracha-and-kale burger, described as “an aging hipster’s cry for help”? Or just sausages and brown sauce mixed with sriracha in proportions of 5:1.

Sriracha is gaining popularity among chefs and people who just enjoy their food. But what exactly is it?

First, you may have noticed that “Trade β Blog” is about trade. So this piece is not about the joys of eating or cooking with the distinctive chilli sauce. It’s about a controversial issue in trade: the use of a geographical name to identify a product. But it does include some blind tasting in the search for authenticity.

Second, you might also have noticed that all those quotes at the beginning use “sriracha” spelt with a lowercase “s”, as if it were just an ordinary noun.

In a sense it is. But Sriracha (officially Si Racha) is also very much a name. For a start, it’s a town and small port originally built around a sawmill and fishing communities, about 100km southeast of Bangkok, on the way to the resort of Pattaya and next door to what is now Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard industrial complex.

It’s the town where the sauce originally came from and where it got its name.

Later a version of the sauce was produced and marketed in the US by a Vietnamese immigrant who had nothing to do with the Thai town but achieved what is hailed as “a classic American success story”.

That success is more about marketing, financial clout and filling a gap, and perhaps less about the quality of the product (more below). Think of US Parmesan — although US Sriracha is perhaps not so bad.

Continue reading “‘Sriracha’ sauce: is it what it says on the bottle?”

Whatever happened to the WTO intellectual property negotiations?

The only officially recognised WTO intellectual property negotiations are on a register for geographical names of wines and spirits. They’ve been moribund for a decade

By Peter Ungphakorn

No one noticed when these World Trade Organization negotiations passed their 25th anniversary in early 2022. It was no surprise since WTO members had not even bothered to meet in these talks for a decade, except to appoint a new chair and tidy up other administrative issues.

This is about geographical indications — names associated with specific production areas, such as Champagne wine, Scotch whisky or Caerphilly cheese.

The negotiations are not about protecting the names as such. That was settled in the 1994 intellectual property agreement, although some countries want more.

Rather, these talks are about creating in the WTO a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits. They are the only officially recognised negotiations on intellectual property in the WTO.

And although they’ve been stuck in limbo since 2012, before that the negotiations did manage to narrow gaps between diametrically opposed positions until they could proceed no further.

The achievement is subtle but significant. The failure of WTO negotiations more broadly prevented members from taking the final steps, although that could not be guaranteed even in a better atmosphere.

Continue reading “Whatever happened to the WTO intellectual property negotiations?”

If Americans are confused about Gruyère cheese, blame the French

Or how to start a war among trade geeks

It’s war: don’t talk about geographical indications
It’s war: don’t talk about geographical indications

By Peter Ungphakorn

“If you’re new to trade and want to know how to start a brawl between trade people — Simon has the answer.”

That tweet, accompanied by a riotously animated GIF of a bar fight, came from Greg Messenger, associate professor at Bristol University Law School.

“Simon” is another trade law guru, Simon Lester, whose CV includes a stint in the WTO Appellate Body Secretariat.

Let’s keep up the erosion & make all cheese terms generic!

Simon Lester

“GI Simon,” punned a third trade law guru Holger Hestermeyer of The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London.

Lester had tweeted the outcome of a court case as reported on NBC News: “decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled GRUYERE produced outside the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic.”

That quote already contains a lot that is inflammatory in trade. Lester added a couple of gallons (US, of course, 3.785411784 litres each) of gasoline to the flames: “Let’s keep up the erosion & make all cheese terms generic!”

Continue reading “If Americans are confused about Gruyère cheese, blame the French”

Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable

Rabbit hole noun

A complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends
I wanted to show this woman descending into the rabbit hole: this loss of self, becoming a servant to her job and to the work — Jessica Chastain

Especially : One in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits
— While trying to find the picture again on Google, I fell down the Cosmo rabbit hole, scrolling through a gallery of swimwear, then through “How to Be Sexier-Instantly” and then through all 23 slides of “Sexy Ideas for Long Hair.” — Edith Zimmerman

Merriam Webster Dictionary online

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 8, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 9, 2021

This is a cautionary tale about just how difficult it is to crack the secret codes of trade agreements. We can ask a simple question: how will the agreement change trade in a particular product. To reach the answer we often have to venture out into a wonderland of obscure paths and hidden traps.

Does it matter? Yes, if we want to find out for ourselves what is in the agreement. Bob Wolfe and I have argued at length about the need for more transparency in trade. This is true of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is part of the rabbit warren. It is also true of free trade agreements.

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable. Tracking down tariff commitments can be a nightmare, as this story shows.

Continue reading “Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway”

FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?

The British government shouldn’t spoil the achievements of the deal by making exaggerated claims

By Peter Ungphakorn

UPDATE a year later: So far no new British geographical indications have been registered in Japan. But the EU has secured protection (officially “designated” geographical indications) for 21 new food names since February 1, 2021 — items 75–95 on this list (with 17 more apparently pending comment on this list). And according to the US Department of Agriculture, three new spirits and four new wines were also registered, although they are not yet listed in English on the official Japanese website.

The UK International Trade Department said on October 22, 2021 that discussions with Japan on protecting new names started early in the year. The UK shared its list with Japan on April 30. These British geographical indications “will now go through Japan’s procedures as quickly as possible,” the department said.

More on Japanese lists of registered names can be found below.


TWO YEARS LATER: Still no new UK geographical indications registered in Japan. The number of the EUs added names has increased by the previously-pending 17 to reach 38.

Ben Ramanauskas, a former adviser to Liz Truss and the UK International Trade Department, wrote this explanation on November 27, 2022:

“… After the negotiations were finalised I was tasked by Liz Truss (possibly as a punishment) to work on ensuring that the new Geographical Indications (GIs) were recognised by the Japanese Government. GIs essentially mean that certain UK products receive protected status in another country, so that there would be no imitation[*] Cheddar Cheese or Cornish Pasties being produced in Tokyo or Kyoto. This is all well and good, but could hardly be considered a priority given how economically insignificant many of the industries set to benefit are. The politics of it all matters unfortunately, and it makes for nice headlines especially if accompanied with a photo next to some flags.”

* Note “imitation” is not correct here. For protected geographical indications, imitation is allowed. Using the same name is not.

Britain’s new trade agreement with Japan contains some improvements over the EU-Japan deal it rolls over, but some of London’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“It’s a roll-over of the EU deal with extra bits. And that’s a success too. That’s still better than we thought we’re going to get. Why not just say that?” tweeted trade advisor Anna Jerzewska.

She was commenting on the claim by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss that this “first trade agreement” for Britain “as an independent trading nation” has “major wins that would be impossible as part of the EU.”

Continue reading “FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?”

Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?

The UK has agreed to keep EU names protected, but what about UK names in the EU?

By Peter Ungphakorn

News that Britain wanted to renegotiate a deal struck in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement on geographical indications — names such as Scotch whisky, Melton Mowbray pies, Cognac and Roquefort cheese — has triggered a discussion about what exactly was agreed, what wasn’t included and why not.

A report in The Guardian (echoing some earler reports) said the EU was “flabbergasted” that the UK wanted to water down the deal on geographical indications. “It’s just not going to happen,” the report quoted an EU official as saying.

Continue reading “Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?”

How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement

The Appellate Body is in a deep freeze, but those who think it will drag trade into the law of the jungle are in for a surprise

By Peter Ungphakorn

A very short summary and graphic:
Dispute settlement is not essential (but it helps)

The public discussion of the Appellate Body crisis in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about how governments’ actions on trade are handled in the organisation.

This is important. The WTO is now a quarter of a century old. Its real achievements are hardly noticed. They never hit the headlines.

Instead, the impression we get is that it’s all about the dispute settlement crisis (and previously the struggle to conclude negotiations).

The Appellate Body has been unable to function since December 11, 2019. This has crippled WTO dispute settlement, we’re told, ultimately jeopardising a trading system that’s supposed to be based on rules — rules that can no longer be “enforced” as a result of the crisis.

We’re going to be left with the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Just watch and wait. It could be the end of the WTO, we’re told.

We might have to wait an awfully long time, because keeping international trade within agreed rules relies on much more than dispute settlement. In fact a key purpose of the WTO is to keep formal disputes to a minimum, and it does a pretty good job at that.

Continue reading “How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement”

Text of the UK-South Korea free trade agreement

The longest sections are the schedule of commitments on goods (912 pages) and rules of origin (128 pages)

Posted by Peter Ungphakorn

These are links to the text of the UK-South Korea free trade agreement, signed in London on August 22 and published on the South Korean Government website. It has been posted on that site in separate parts.

The longest sections are the schedule of commitments on goods (912 pages) and rules of origin (128 pages).

(A few days later, the texts were published on the British government website on September 10, along with an explanatory memorandum. A report to Parliament was published separately the previous day.

(See also an earlier piece on rolling over the EU-S.Korea free trade agreement. This deal does that, but the devil is in the detail.) Continue reading “Text of the UK-South Korea free trade agreement”

What are geographical indications? What do they mean for post-Brexit UK?

People’s views of geographical indications range from cherishing them as precious cultural heritage and commercial property, to annoyance and scorn. They are complicated. Every argument has a counter-argument

“How was your Cornish pasty sir? And your lamb, madam? It was New Zealand lamb. Excellent. Would you like some dessert? A cheese plate? We have a new Tiroler Bergkäse from Austria. I also recommend a fine French or Swiss Gruyère. And we have a lovely Caerphilly. Or our chef’s favourite mature Cheddar. A selection? Of course. And to go with that? Would you like to stay with your Amarone della Valpolicella? An Armagnac? A perfect choice. And sir? More Evian. Coming right up.”
Which of these are geographical indications? Answer at the end (click the image to see it full size)

By Peter Ungphakorn

Among the thousands of policy questions facing Britain after it leaves the EU is what its approach should be for geographical indications.

These are names — like Melton Mowbray pork pies, Rutland bitter and Bordeaux wine — that are used to identify certain products.

The UK’s policy will affect both its own and other countries’ names, and it has now taken first steps in revealing what its approach will be.

People’s views of geographical indications range from cherishing them as precious cultural heritage and commercial property, to annoyance and scorn.

What are they? And what are the decisions facing the UK? This is an attempt to explain them simply. It’s in two main parts with a small third part tacked on.

Continue reading “What are geographical indications? What do they mean for post-Brexit UK?”