IDFA joined representatives from three other organizations and officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in hosting a briefing on Capitol Hill last week. They explained how the European Union’s bilateral trade pacts restricting the use of common food names are causing harm to U.S. companies and exports. The briefing on the EU’s overreach on geographical indications drew several staff members who work for senators serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with protecting trade and commerce against unlawful restraints.
“Although GIs are a form of intellectual property, this issue for U.S. cheese companies is also a market access issue,” said Beth Hughes, IDFA director of international affairs. “Overall U.S. cheese exports were $1.2 billion in 2016,” Hughes said, adding that the EU is now working to gain exclusive use of several common cheese names in Mexico, America’s largest cheese export market, and Japan, the third-largest market for U.S. cheeses.
U.S. dairy companies shipped $362 million worth of cheese to Mexico during the past year, Hughes said. Now that Mexico is modernizing its free trade agreement with the EU, the result could be unwarranted protection for the names of 24 popular cheeses, including “asiago,” “feta,” “gorgonzola,” “mozzarella” and “parmesan.”
In Japan, the EU is attempting to block 20 food terms, including “asiago,” “feta,” “gouda,” “mozzarella” and “parmesan,” Hughes said. American dairy companies shipped $117 million of cheese products to the country last year.
“In country after country, we’ve seen the EU use its free trade agreements to persuade trading partners to impose barriers through restrictions on generic food names,” said Hughes. “We believe that trade agreements should break down barriers, not erect new ones.”
The Consortium for Common Food Names, of which IDFA is a founding member, is submitting comments to Mexican and Japanese officials to oppose the protection of common cheese names in their trade pacts with the EU. IDFA also will seek additional opportunities to engage as negotiations progress.
EU Gains GI Protections in Canada
The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which includes a number of GIs, was provisionally implemented last week. IDFA issued a press release to voice concerns that the pact grants protection for five generic cheese names: “asiago,” “feta,” “fontina,” “gorgonzola” and “munster.”
U.S. cheese manufacturers that began producing those types of cheeses after October 18, 2013, will now be required to add qualifiers, such as “kind,” “type,” “style” and “imitation” for sales in Canada. Read, “Geographical Indications in New EU-Canada Trade Agreement Violate International Trade Commitments.”
For more information, contact Dave Carlin, IDFA senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.