Congress urges end to EU trade barriers against U.S. dairy

Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Congress and the U.S. dairy industry are pushing trade negotiators to resolve the EU's use of geographic indicators for common cheese names to block U.S. exports to the EU and its trading partners.

The U.S. Senate and House have urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S Trade Representative Michael Froman to stand firm on removing trade barriers to U.S. dairy products in negotiations with the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment and Partnership.

While Congress and the U.S. dairy industry call for reduced tariffs and simplified certification requirements on U.S. dairy exports to the EU, their biggest concern is the EU’s growing efforts to prevent U.S. companies from using common food names, such as parmesan and feta cheese, used generically for decades all over the world.

Not only are exports of U.S. cheeses carrying those widely accepted generic names disallowed in the EU, the EU is forging trade agreements with other countries requiring that their imports of those cheeses come exclusively from the EU, said Shawna Morris, vice president of trade policy for U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation.

The concern is that U.S. companies could be forced to stop using those names through the U.S.-EU trade agreement, she said.

Congress and the dairy industry are urging negotiators to push back against the EU’s protectionist measures that shut out competition and harm U.S. dairy exports.

Earlier this month, 177 House members sent a letter to Vilsack and Froman urging them to work aggressively against the EU’s efforts to impose restrictions under the guise of geographic indicators for common food names.

“The EU is taking a mechanism that was created to protect consumers against misleading information and instead using it to carve out exclusive market access for its own products,” they stated.

With the exception of the EU market, U.S. dairy exports have risen dramatically, reaching $6.7 billion — including $1.4 billion in cheese — in 2013, accounting for more than 15 percent of domestic milk production. Foreign markets now account for one day of U.S. milking every week, they stated.

The letter echoes similar statements made in a March letter to the two officials by 55 senators.

The European Commission has protected about 1,000 foods with geographic indicators, and most pose no conflict, such as “Camembert de Normandie.” But the EU is stepping up its efforts to monopolize the common, descriptive names of foods that have become generic, Jamie Castaneda, executive director of the Consortium for Common Food Names and senior vice president of Trade Policy at USDEC and NMPF, said in an earlier interview.

In addition, U.S. cheeses with the restricted EU names can’t compete in international competitions or food shows on EU territory, hampering marketing opportunities, Morris said.

Congress and the dairy industry are also urging Congress to address EU dairy tariffs, which average roughly three times the level of U.S. dairy tariffs, and the EU’s extensive and complicated certification requirements for U.S. dairy products, she said.

The fifth round of the U.S.-EU trade talks is taking place this week in Arlington, Va.



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