At today’s stakeholder meeting with EU and US negotiators of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC) rejected suggestions by the EU that US producers should relinquish their right to use long-standing generic food names on the US market.

The EU has over 1,200 food and beverage products, which are protected with Geographical Indications (GIs). While 95% of these product names do not pose a problem, the EU’s approach to also protect some common food names, such as feta, parmesan, munster and gorgonzola constitutes a lingering issue in the EU-US free trade negotiations.

“We believe it is reasonable for products 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 not distort trade,” explained Maike Moellers, a USDEC representative. “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.

Many US producers of cheeses like parmesan, asiago and feta came from Europe as immigrants and started their production business in the US. They created and grew markets in the US for cheeses which names originated from Europe. As a result of EU legislation and EU court decisions, which have also raised disputes within the EU itself, US producers cannot sell their products under these generic names on the EU market. If this rule would now be transfer to the US market as part of TTIP, while existing barriers to common name usage in the EU and other markets are left in place, hundreds of companies across the US and supplying farms would be affected. They would lose the markets they grew for their products and would face high costs as non-EU companies would be forced to abandon the use of names best known to consumers. These restrictions would be at odds with TTIP’s overarching goal of liberalizing trade.

 “We believe that negotiations on GIs should be taken out of TTIP and dealt with in a separate forum in order to carefully assess the legitimate concerns of both sides. We must avoid that this issue becomes a stumbling block for such an unprecedented opportunity to boost free trade such as TTIP,” he said.