Canada has vowed only to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU) that creates new export opportunities for Canadian firms, after a Greek official called for talks regarding the possibility of Canadian-made feta cheese entering Europe to be dropped.
Earlier this month, Dimitris Melas, the general secretary of the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food, reportedly called for the subject of feta cheese exports from Canada into Europe to be omitted from discussion during on-going Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations.
“The possibility of made-in-Canada feta coming to the EU must be removed completely from the rhetoric of any public discussion today,” Melas was reported as saying.
Within Europe, feta cheese is a geographical indication (GI)-protected product. Under its 2002-registered GI, feta cheese sold in the EU must be produced in Macedonia, Central Mainland Greece, the Thrace, Thessaly, Peloponnese regions, or the three islands that make up the Lesbos prefecture.
In a statement sent to DairyReporter.com, the Canadian Ministry for International Trade, which is heading up the country’s free trade agreement talks with the EU, dismissed Melas' comments.
“Negotiations between the EU and Canada are continuing,” said the emailed statement.
“Both Canada and the EU remain committed to a successful outcome to the negotiations.”
“Canada will only sign an agreement that is in the best interests of Canadians, that open up new markets and creates new opportunities for Canadian exports,” the statement added.
Protection of other GIs
EU GIs identify a good as originating in a region or locality in a particular country where a “given quality, reputation or other characteristic” is essentially attributable to the product’s geographical origin.
According to recent European Commission (EC) research, worldwide sales of GI-protected cheese products hit €6.3bn ($8.5bn) in 2010.
In Greece, the GI-protected cheese sector, which is made up largely of feta, accounted for 54% of national cheese production, the EC study found.
Greek official, Melas, also reportedly raised concerns about the protection of other GIs.
“If the EU loses feta, then other products will follow,” he was reported as saying.
DairyReporter.com approached the Athens-based Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food in regards to Melas’ comments, but no reply was forthcoming prior to publication.
EU GIs have become a regular topic of disagreement in recent years, as developed and developing nations look to promote trade and encourage economic development.
Earlier this year, Italy blocked Costa Rica’s entry into the Central American Association Agreement (CAAA) – a trade agreement between Central America and the EU – in protest to the use of four GI-protected cheese names - Provolone Valpadana, Fontina, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano Reggiano - by firms in the country.
Meanwhile, objections have also been raised on the other side of the Atlantic.
In March 2013, the US Dairy Export Council called for talks regarding the “over-reach” of EU GIs.
“We have no objection to European producers using the GI system to help effectively market their products,” USDEC vice president of trade policy, Shawna Morris told DairyReporter.com at the time. “What we object to are cases where the system over-reaches and erects de facto barriers to trade by blocking others from using names that had already entered into common usage by other producers.”