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USTR Report Outlines Efforts To Ensure EU’s GI Protections Don’t Harm US Market Access

A new report from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) looks at the state of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement in US trading partners around the world.

The US is working “intensively” through bilateral and multilateral channels to advance US market access interests and to ensure that the trade initiatives of the European Union (EU) and its member countries and international organizations, including with respect to the protection of geographical indications (GIs), do not undercut US industries’ market access, the report said.

The EU’s GI agenda remains “highly concerning” in two key respects, the report explained: in terms of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of other IPRs, particularly trademarks, held by US producers; and concomitantly imposes barriers to market access for US-made goods that rely on the scope of such rights.

First, the EU GI system raises concerns regarding the extent to which it impairs the scope of trademark protection, which remains among the most effective ways for companies to create value, promote their goods, and protect their brands, including with respect to food and beverage products covered by the EU GI system, the report noted. Many such products are already protected in the US, in the EU, and around the world by trademarks.

Second, the “troubling aspects” of the EU GI system, in turn, result in negative market impacts for US and other producers in the EU market. For example, US-EU trade in agricultural products is “highly asymmetrical,” with the US running a “significant trade deficit.”

In the case of cheese, for example, the EU exports almost $1 billion of cheese to the US each year, while the US exports only around $6 million to the EU. Conversely, EU agricultural producers exporting to the US “are doing quite well,” benefiting considerably from the scope of trademark protection provided in the US, and notably in the absence of an EU-style GI system.

Despite these “troubling aspects” of its GI system, the EU continues to seek to expand its system within its territory and beyond, the report said. Specifically beyond its borders, the EU has sought to advance its agenda through bilateral trade agreements, which extend the negative market impacts of the EU GI system on the scope of trademark protection to third countries.

In response to the EU’s actions, the US continues its “intensive engagement” in promoting and protecting access to foreign markets for US exporters whose products are trademark protected or are identified by common names like Parmesan or Feta, the report said. The US is advancing these objectives “intensively” through its free trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as in international fora.

The US is also engaging bilaterally to address GI-related concerns resulting from the GI provisions of EU trade agreements and other initiatives, including with Canada, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, the Philippines, South Africa, and Vietnam, among others.

US goals in this regard include, among other things: ensuring that the grant of GI protection does not violate prior rights, such as a trademark; ensuring that the grant of GI protection does not deprive interested parties of the ability to use common names, such as Parmesan or Feta; and ensuring that notices issued when granting a GI consisting of compound terms identify its common name components.

“Producers around the world continue

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