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CATO Scholar Condemns Europe’s Overreach on GIs

Apr 20, 2016

“The European Union’s agenda in international trade negotiations includes an effort to secure the protection of their geographical indications (GIs) in foreign markets. If European officials have their way, a great number of common foods and drink names will disappear from American grocery store shelves,” said K. William Watson, a trade policy analyst for the Cato Institute, in a recently published policy analysis.

In “Reign of Terroir: How to Resist Europe’s Efforts to Control Common Food Names as Geographical Indications,” Watson discusses the negative long-term consequences of the European Union’s efforts to spread its geographical indications around the globe. His calls for a strong U.S. defense against these efforts represent another voice among the growing support within academic and policy circles for the current U.S. position on sensible GIs. 

Watson believes that the EU is overusing “terroir,” a combination of environmental factors such as soil, climate and sunlight that give products their distinctive character, to support broad GI claims and argues that many of the current GI protections in the EU would mislead consumers on geographic origin. For example, EU regulations allow Stilton cheese to be made in the three counties surrounding Stilton, England, but not in the county of Cambridgeshire, where the village is actually located.

Restrictions Do Not Help Consumers

According to Watson, most American consumers do not associate cheeses with a given locale, such as Parmesan with Parma, Italy, or Gouda with the Dutch city of the same name. When cheese companies are not allowed to use qualifiers, like parmesan-style cheese or American-made Gouda, Watson says the restrictions do nothing to promote the interests of consumers or ensure the flow of accurate information.

In his conclusion, Watson advocates for a robust U.S. defense against EU overreach in pursuit of sensible GIs on three fronts: at the multilateral level at the World Trade Organization, in regional and bilateral trade agreements, and in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP).

“It is not enough, however, that the United States avoid the European model. It must also actively fight against European efforts to spread its model around the world,” Watson says.

IDFA has taken a strong stance in combatting overreach on GIs and continues to make progress in helping maintain a strong stance for common food names, especially as an active partner in the Consortium for Common Food Names.

To learn more about IDFA’s work on ensuring responsible use of geographic indications, contact Beth Hughes, IDFA director of international affairs, at

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