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Trade group asks White House to tread carefully on common food name flap

The Consortium for Common Food Names says it is critical that European producers not be given monopoly rights to highly contentious geographical indications and “traditional terms,” should a U.S.-EU free trade agreement move forward.

December 20, 2012
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(Washington D.C., December 20, 2012) The Consortium for Common Food Names joined with key allies, including the U.S. wine and dairy industries, in sending a letter to the U.S. White House that encouraged use of a separate, issue-specific forum to deal with the protection of common food names and prevent the confiscation of these names by the European Commission. It is critical that European producers not be given monopoly rights to highly contentious geographical indications and “traditional terms,” should a U.S.-EU free trade agreement move forward.

The letter was addressed to Michael Froman, the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, and was prompted by continued high-level insistence from the EU that designations of origin be included in any U.S.-EU free trade negotiations. Also joining in this message was the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, two of the leading national broad-based farm groups in the U.S.

The U.S. agriculture community, including members of CCFN, has expressed support for the prospect of an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU that would remove both tariff and nontariff barriers to U.S. exports to the EU. However, the letter made clear that the structure of those negotiations was critical. CCFN and the other signatories asserted that the issues pertaining to the use of common names, legitimate geographical indications and traditional terms must be dealt with in an entirely separate undertaking in order to ensure that a mutually agreeable outcome is found on those contentious topics.

The letter conveyed a key message on the importance of common names and terms, stating that, “For several years now, the EU has been working to monopolize usage of certain wine and food terms that the U.S. and many other countries regard as generic. It is, however, thanks to waves of European immigrants over the years that the U.S. and other New World countries in particular share many of the same culinary traditions and terminology. These terms have been used legally and in good faith for generations within the U.S.”

CCFN and its allies pointed to the successful model of the 2006 U.S.-EU Wine Agreement that was able to find a common ground approach to resolving the naming and terminology issues at stake at that time. As the letter noted, “The stand-alone nature of that agreement provided the necessary incentive to the EU to find ways to also address U.S. wine industry concerns.”

Similarly, giving these issues their own forum, unrelated to broader potential U.S.-EU FTA talks, will be the best way to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement that addresses both barriers to U.S. products (such as usage of common names around the world, including access into the EU for U.S. “parmesan” and U.S. “feta”) and the needs of EU producers. The issues of common names, geographical indications and traditional terms promise to be some of the more contentious areas of discussion, should U.S.-EU trade negotiations move forward. It is only logical to try to maximize the likelihood of a successful conclusion to such issues by tackling them in a manner designed to most effectively address concerns on both sides of the table. 

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