The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) every year releases the Special 301 Report on the state of intellectual property (IP) rights around the world, and this year the report outlined the Trump Administration’s commitment to curtailing the damaging abuses of geographical indications (GIs), particularly by the European Union. The 2017 report, published last month, highlights the EU’s aggressive agenda regarding GIs as a major concern for the United States, “especially because of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of trademarks and other IP rights held by U.S. producers, and imposes barriers on market access for American-made goods and services that rely on the use of common names, such as parmesan or feta.”

IDFA, the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council submitted joint comments for the report last month, noting that the U.S. dairy industry is gravely concerned about the abuse by certain countries of intellectual property tools, such as GIs, at the intentional expense of American companies, employees and farmers. In recent years, the European Union and other countries have been promoting the global adoption of GI policies that are intended to shield European companies from competition by American companies and those in other nations, they said.

The report emphasized the negative impact that the EU agenda has on American producers and traders, who export $6 million worth of cheese to the EU, compared to the nearly $1 billion in cheese the EU sends to the United States. According to the USTR, most U.S. cheesemakers are “blocked from those markets or must sell their products as ‘parmesan-like,’ ‘gorgonzola-kind,’ ‘asiago-style’ or ‘imitation feta’ – which is costly, unnecessary and can reduce consumer demand for the products” despite these terms being common names.  

Additionally, the report said the EU’s promotion of its GI agenda through bilateral agreements with countries including Canada, China, Costa Rica and Vietnam is a threat to U.S. and other cheese makers around the world.

To ensure equal market access for U.S. producers of common foods, USTR outlined five goals for revising how GI protections are established:

  • Ensure that a grant of GI protection does not violate prior rights;
  • Ensure that a grant of GI protection does not deprive interested parties of the ability to use common food names;
  • Ensure that interested persons have notice of, and opportunity to oppose or to seek cancellation of, any GI protection that is sought or granted;
  • Ensure that notices issued when granting a GI consisting of compound terms identify its common name components; and
  • Oppose efforts to extend the protection given to GIs for wines and spirits, to other products.

“IDFA welcomes USTR’s commitment to protecting the use common food names, and we look forward to working with the agency to ensure that U.S. companies can continue to sell their products on equal footing with the EU,” said Beth Hughes, IDFA director of international affairs.

For more information, contact Hughes at