Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor


EU vs. New Zealand, Australia On GIs Should Be Interesting

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter Publishing Co., Inc.
dgroves@cheesereporter.com 608-316-3791

June 8, 2018


When it comes to protecting its many geographical indications for cheese, the European Union has done a pretty nice job in several of its recent trade agreements. That means upcoming trade talks between the EU and both Australia and New Zealand should be mighty interesting when it comes to the subject of GIs.

The EU arguably started its recent momentum on GIs when it finalized its Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. CETA includes protections for a number of EU agricultural GIs in Canada.

Among other things, CETA won’t affect the ability of current users of Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola and Munster in Canada to continue using those names, but future users will be able to use the names only when accompanied by expressions such as “kind,” “type,” “style,” “imitation” or the like. That’s a nice accomplishment for the EU (but not for anyone else).

Following CETA, the EU has negotiated new or renegotiated old trade agreements with, among other countries, Japan and Mexico.

As far as Japan is concerned, the Consortium for Common Food Names last December welcomed the Japanese government’s decision to assure the continued general use for many generic food terms as part of its trade agreement with the EU, even as CCFN seeks further assurances on several common terms still at risk. And Japan will provide a transition period of seven years for prior users of certain terms, including cheese names Asiago, Feta, Fontina and Gorgonzola, after which the EU could have sole rights to these names.

Meanwhile, the EU and Mexico back in April reached a new agreement on trade that will ensure the protection of some 340 EU GIs. While full details of that agreement haven’t yet been released, the CCFN and others said Mexico appears poised to enact new restrictions on the use of common cheese names such as Parmesan, Munster and Feta for products sold in Mexico.

What Canada, Japan and Mexico have in common is that they aren’t exporters of cheese or other dairy products (with the notable exception of Canada’s recently expanding exports of skim milk powder), and therefore appear willing to trade away some dairy market access (in the form of GI protections, reduced tariffs, etc.) in exchange for concessions in other areas. But that’s not always going to be the case for the EU.

Case in point: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated between the EU and the US. Well, it was being negotiated between the EU and the US.

According to a recent US-EU joint report on TTIP progress to date, the EU and US “have made considerable progress” in negotiating the TTIP agreement since the talks were launched in July 2013. But arguably the most important point to note here is the date of that joint report: Jan. 17, 2017, three days before President Trump took office. It’s safe to say these talks aren’t going any further anytime soon.

And that’s too bad, because the GI issue was shaping up to be a key issue in the TTIP talks. For example, in 2014, numerous members of both the US House and Senate urged Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and US Trade Representative Michael Froman to work aggressively against the EU’s global efforts to impose restrictions on the use of many common food names under the guise of GI regulations.

GIs were included in TTIP, as the EU believed that it would have been beneficial for both parties to provide adequate protection to this essential intellectual property right, the European Commission noted in a March 2016 guide to the EU’s GI proposal in TTIP.

But there wasn’t exactly unanimity in the EU as far as GIs and the TTIP were concerned; GIs “are of no value for Irish dairy exports,” the Irish Farmers Association noted, adding that it is of “critical importance,” from an Irish dairy perspective in particular, that negotiations on GI recognition are undertaken without impacting negatively on the parallel discussions on access to the US market.

While EU-US trade talks have ended, at least for now, the EU did recently decide to move forward with negotiations on trade agreements with New Zealand and Australia, and it appears that GIs will be a pretty contentious issue in those talks.

According to the EU, Australia currently maintains some measures that negatively impact EU dairy exports (including “insufficient protection” of GIs), while New Zealand also currently “does not provide sufficient protection” of GIs for EU dairy products. The EU’s free trade agreements with those countries are expected to provide the necessary frameworks to address such issues more effectively. We shall see.

Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand noted that the New Zealand dairy industry has an interest in ensuring the “ongoing ability to use common cheese names,” and has been disappointed at the loss of New Zealand’s ability to export Feta, Parmesan and Gruyere to the EU.

Of “particular concern” to the Australian Dairy Industry Council are efforts to restrict the use of common cheese names, “which could put Australian dairy producers at a disadvantage to their European counterparts.”

Obviously, the EU, New Zealand and Australia have different positions when it comes to GIs. It will be mighty interesting to see how GIs are dealt with in these upcoming trade negotiations.

Correction: In last week’s column, I stated that the block price range in 2014 was almost $1.50 a pound. In fact it was almost $1.00 a pound (95.5 cents, to be exact). I apologize for the error.

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.



Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 35 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

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