The European Dairy Association (EDA) is confident EU and US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiators can reach a compromise on the "lingering issue" of geographical indications (GIs).
Speaking with DairyReporter.com, Alexander Anton, secretary general, EDA, said that US and European Union (EU) TTIP representatives will likely meet each other half way on the issue of GIs.
“We invite the European Commission to protect our geographical indications," said Anton, "but if we need to find a compromise we will find one."
GI products are categorized under the protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI) schemes, which identify a good as originating in a particular region or locality where a "given quality, reputation or other characteristic" is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
Feta, Edam, Gouda, Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), Comté and Roquefort are among the scores of European cheese names protected by the GI system.
US products, using GI-protected food names such as Feta, cannot be sold in the EU. If the same policy is transferred to the US under the TTIP, dairy processors and supply dairy farmers would be affected, the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC) has warned.
Yesterday, on the back of a stakeholder meeting with US and EU negotiators during the latest round of TTIP talks in Brussels, USDEC issued a statement refusing to consider any suggestion that US cheese producers should give up their right to use common food names on the US market.
Around 95% of these GIs pose no problem, said USDEC. But the EU's protection of generic names such as Feta and Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) constitutes a "lingering issue in the EU-US negotiations," it said.
“We believe it is reasonable for product with a specific geographic designation included in their compound name to be protected, such as Gouda Holland or Brie de Melun. The names Gouda and Brie remain unrestricted, which means that when used in combination with a regional name the protection does no distort trade,” said USDEC representative, Maike Moellers.
“The reality is, however, that the US and most other countries already provide the opportunity to protect terms such as these.”
“What we strongly oppose is the EU’s overreaching approach to restrict in the EU and in third countries via FTAs, the use of common, generic names, claiming that these products can only come from specific regions in Europe. This results in the elimination of competition and provides commercial advantages to certain EU manufacturers,” said Moellers.
TTIP negotiations began in July 2013 with the aim of removing trade barriers between the EU and US. Research suggests that the deal could provide the EU and US economies with a boost of €120bn (US$162bn) and €90bn (US$121bn) respectively.
To "avoid that this issue becomes a stumbling block" USDEC has called for GIs to be remove from the TTIP and "dealt with in a separate forum in order to carefully assess the legitimate concerns of both sides."
EDA, which represents the interests of the European dairy sector, is confident, however, that some sort of compromise - like the one agreed between the EU and Canada - on EU GIs can be reached.
After more than four years of negotiation, the EU and Canada reached an agreement on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, including a section on GIs.Under CETA, Canada was given limited GI rights on several cheese names, including Asiago, Feta, and Gorgonzola.
Current users of the common food names, Asiago, Feta and Gorgonzola, can continue using such terms under the agreement. Future users will, however, only be permitted to use the GI-protected names if accompanied by terms such as 'type', 'style', or 'imitation'.
“It has always been a critical issue for the US and it is of great importance to the EU,” said Anton. “Since we fought for a compromise with our friends in Canada, we are sure there will be a compromise with our friends in the US.”