The U.S. Trade Representative is using its annual report on the global state of intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement to take the European Union to task for creating barriers to market access for American-made goods that rely on the use of common names, such as parmesan and feta.

The 2018 Special 301 Report, named after a section of the Trade Act of 1974, identified these so-called Geographic Indications (GIs) as one of the major market challenges facing U.S. food producers.

“The EU agenda remains highly concerning,” the 86-page report said, “especially because of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of trademarks and other IP rights held by U.S. producers.”

The report noted that the EU, as part of its trade-agreement negotiations, pressures its trading partners to prevent non-EU producers from using certain product names including fontina, gorgonzola, asiago or feta, “even though they are common names for products, and the products are produced in countries around the world.”

“In the EU and other markets that have adopted the EU GI system, American producers and traders either are effectively blocked from those markets or are otherwise restricted,” the report says. “For example, in some markets non-EU producers may only sell their products as ‘fontina-like,’ ‘gorgonzola-kind,’ ‘asiago-style,’ or ‘imitation feta,’ and in other markets, non-EU producers may not even use such descriptors, which is costly, unnecessary, and can reduce consumer demand for the non-EU products.”

The USTR argues that the EU’s GI system contributes to the “significant deficit” the U.S. runs in food and agricultural trade with the U.S. In the case of cheese, for example, where many EU products enjoy GI protection under the EU GI system, Europe exports over $900 million of cheese to the U.S. annually, while the U.S. exports only about $4 million to the EU.

What’s more, the report says, the EU is enlarging its system within its own borders beyond agricultural products and foodstuffs, to include non-agricultural products, including apparel, ceramics, glass, handicrafts, manufactured goods, minerals, salts, stones, and textiles.

Some other highlights of the report:                                                               

--Canada was downgraded from USTR’s Watch List to a Priority Watch List, for failing to make progress on overcoming important IP enforcement challenges. Among the “key concerns” – inadequate transparency and due process regarding the protection of geographical indications. China, India and Russia are also on the 12-nation Priority Watch List.

--USTR cited “restrictive patentability criteria” as a challenge that is undermining opportunities for export growth in countries such as Argentina, India and Indonesia.  In addition, USTR said there’s a “lack of adequate and effective protection” for regulatory test or other data submitted by pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical producers in countries includingArgentina, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Russia.

--China, which the U.S. recently targeted with punitive tariffs for intellectual property theft, among other charges, is on the Priority Watch list for the 14th straight year. Concerns include “China’s coercive technology transfer practices, range of impediments to effective IP enforcement, and widespread infringing activity, including trade secret theft, rampant online piracy and counterfeit manufacturing.”