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Europe Blocks US Cheese Exports

23 April 2012

US - When the US-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) went into effect in March, it opened many doors to US cheese suppliers. A few however remained shut, not from latent protectionist fears of the Koreans, but from the strategic maneuvering of the European Commission, writes Jamie Castaneda, Executive Director Consortium for Common Food Names; and Senior vice president, Trade policy US Dairy Export Council.

Because of the EU government’s aggressive efforts to confiscate common (generic) food names, including many of the most well-known cheeses, US suppliers will no longer be able to sell asiago, feta, fontina or gorgonzola in Korea—at least not under those names. The restriction is solely due to the EU’s demands under its FTA with Korea.

The European Commission is pursuing a multi-pronged international effort to confiscate common names, said Mr Castaneda. Its strategy will have far-ranging negative repercussions on the international cheese business unless it is strongly contested. Geographical Indication (GI) provisions in Europe and within the EU-South Korea FTA are a mere example of the intentions and the extent that the EU is prepared to go in the international arena.

Evidence abounds that the EU has made the monopolisation of generic food names a priority in trade discussions around the world.

The fall-out, if the European Commission’s efforts are left unchallenged, would be disastrous for the US and the global cheese industry. All cheese producers would be required to re-label products, remake marketing campaigns and reeducate buyers and consumers, a prospect that would cost billions. US cheese suppliers would see the promise of emerging markets shrink considerably and could even face business upheaval here at home.

The breadth of the problem and the resources allocated by the 27-member bloc demanded a comprehensive, coordinated global response.

To meet the challenge, US Dairy Export Council pulled together an international coalition of concerned companies and organisations, including dairy companies and associations from Canada, Argentina and Central America, as well as US companies and organisations such as National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association, to form the Consortium for Common Food Names, an independent international group focused on countering the GI threat.

The consortium, which debuted in March and held an open reception yesterday in Milwaukee in conjunction with the International Cheese Technology Exposition, seeks to draw attention to and prevent efforts to restrict the use of common food names (cheese and otherwise). It supports well-designed GIs but opposes any attempts to monopolise generic names that have become part of the public domain.

The EU’s efforts have thrived under the radar—behind the closed doors of negotiations and in subsequent work with foreign governments through more than a dozen free trade agreements currently moving through the pipeline.

The consortium plans to shine a spotlight on the problem by informing consumer groups, farmer associations, food processors and ag and trade officials of the damage that will be caused in their own countries if the reckless restriction of common food names is left unchecked.

It will also work with leaders in agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights to develop and foster the adoption of a just system of GIs that preserves the right for companies to use generic food and beverage names as they have been doing for decades.

But the effort needs the food industry’s support, particularly cheese suppliers and those supplying the critical raw ingredient for cheese and high-quality milk.

Evidence is mounting that inaction would only cause GI restrictions to worsen with time. To find out more about the Coalition for Common Food Names and what you can do to help, visit www.commonfoodnames.com.

TheCattleSite News Desk



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