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What’s in a name? EU trade threat at critical juncture

The groups are calling on the administration to send a firm message to Japan and Mexico to abide by their trade agreements with the U.S. and reject the EU’s attempts to confiscate the rights to common food names in their pending trade agreements with the EU.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on October 10, 2017 9:37AM

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, popularly known as Parmesan cheese.

Dominik Hundhammer/Wikimedia Commons

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, popularly known as Parmesan cheese.

A dozen U.S. food producer and manufacturing groups are urging President Donald Trump to intervene in the EU’s attempt to monopolize common food names through free trade agreements being finalized with Japan and Mexico.

Led by the Consortium for Common Food Names, the groups are urging the president to voice serious concerns to Japan and Mexico about the threat to U.S. market access if they agree to the EU’s lengthy list of protected geographic indications.

A geographic indication — knowns by the initials GI — is a term identifying a product originating from a specific location, such as Parmigiano Reggiano. Also known as Parmesan cheese, it is made is several provinces of Italy.

In a letter to the president this week, the groups said they don’t object to the protection of proper GIs to denote specialty foods.

“But the EU has been aggressively seeking to confiscate generic terms that derive from part of the protected name or are otherwise in common usage, such as parmesan,” they stated.

The EU is attempting to restrict those common names to products made only in the EU, with similar U.S. product being forced to be sold under different, unfamiliar names in Japan and Mexico.

It would be a costly provision that puts the U.S. at a distinct and lasting disadvantage in those markets, despite U.S. producers and processors often being the ones who built the markets for those products, the groups said.

“Many U.S. companies — and the farmers who provide them with raw goods — will be harmed if Japan and Mexico fully accept the EU lists as-is without pushing back and objecting to the inclusion of common terms,” they said.

They pointed out that some nations have already “carelessly given the EU virtually everything it asked for” on its GI lists in disregard of their own intellectual property laws. The result — most notably in Canada — is confusion and disruption in the marketplace, with a direct negative impact on U.S. products and producers.

Canada’s bowing to the EU’s market-restricting tactics also harmed Canadian consumers and producers and Canada’s trade relations with other countries, the groups said.

There are 210 GI items on EU’s list in its agreement with Japan — including food, wine, beer and alcohol — and roughly 300 on its list for Mexico, said Shawna Morris, vice president of trade policy for National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Some nations have stood up to the EU and rejected its pressure to restrict the use of common names, and it’s not difficult to achieve an acceptable list of protected GIs that doesn’t encroach on generic names, the groups said.

Singapore, which completed a not-yet-implemented free trade agreement with the EU a few years ago, has been a strong example, Morris said.

“Singapore refused to simply bless a lengthy list of GIs as the EU is pressuring Mexico and Japan to do now,” she said.

Instead, Singapore has committed to subject an agreed-upon set of GIs to its domestic review process before the FTA’s implementation to determine which should be approved and which should be rejected, she said.

The letter to Trump was also signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Farmer Cooperatives, North American Meat Institute, Wine Institute, Brewers Association, United Fresh, USA Rice and Grocery Manufacturers Association.



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