The U.S. Dairy Export Council, an active member of the international Consortium for Common Food Names, in February briefed U.S. and EU negotiators in Brussels on deep-set concerns with the EU’s current approach to protections for geographical indications (GIs). The presentation was made during the stakeholder briefings here in conjunction with U.S.-EU talks on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

USDEC’s Brussels Representative Maike Moellers made three central points to negotiators. The first was that the approach to GIs used in the EU-Canada agreement is wholly unacceptable to producers that use common food names.

“Since the conclusion of the EU-Canada agreement, we have heard from the EU side again and again that the agreement with Canada on GIs could be a model for TTIP. This is a notion that we absolutely reject,” she said.

Such demands could force U.S. producers and others in the world to give up their right to use generic food names, such as asiago, feta, fontina, Munster and gorgonzola.

Moellers noted that roughly $21 billion in U.S. cheese production uses European-origin names, reflecting the immigrant roots in the U.S. that trace back to many European countries.

Moellers’ second point was that GIs can be workable when approached correctly.

“We do believe that products with a very specific geographic designation included in their compound name, such as ‘Gouda Holland’, can be protected to the benefit of producers and consumers, while the single word ‘gouda’ clearly remains unrestricted and in free usage,” she said.

Her third point was that EU prohibitions are proliferating around the world, spread by trade agreements and new registrations. As a result of these efforts, competition to EU products is eliminated by restricting third-country markets for U.S. exports, she said.

Negotiations on GIs should be dealt with in a separate forum in order to carefully assess the legitimate concerns of both sides, Moellers said.

“We must avoid this issue becoming a stumbling block for an agreement that could otherwise present an unprecedented opportunity to boost free trade,” she said.

Comment on Japan, Canada talks

Also in February, the National Milk Producers Federation and USDEC supported the views of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan regarding agricultural market access to Japan and Canada in the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

Rep. Ryan (from Wisconsin, a dairy state) said Canada and Japan must open their markets to U.S. dairy farmers or not be part of the final trade agreement.

“We could not agree more with Rep. Ryan’s statement that Canada’s ‘big restrictions on dairy, poultry and eggs products … have to go,’” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “Too many times in the past, Canada has gotten a pass on its impenetrable tariff wall on dairy imports. It is time Canada provides significant market access on all dairy products, from cheese to butter to milk.”

 “We appreciate the intense trade negotiations now under way between the United States and Japan and believe significant progress has been made in those talks,” said USDEC President and Dairy Foods columnist Tom Suber. “But there still is work to do. Japan’s ongoing efforts to limit meaningful market access on key U.S. dairy products are not in keeping with a trade agreement designed to expand trade opportunities.”