The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is taking fresh aim at knocking down the European Union’s efforts to protect food names like black forest ham, feta, gorgonzola, fontina, roquefort and asiago cheese.

The issue is usually reserved for negotiating rooms, but USTR is using its latest Special 301 Report on intellectual property violations to single out the EU’s drive to protect what it calls geographical indications, or GIs. U.S. food companies just call them food products.

“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 must adopt burdensome workarounds,” the report stressed. “They either cannot use the descriptors at all, or anything even evoking them, in the market or at best may sell their products only as 'fontinalike,' 'gorgonzola-kind,' 'asiago-style,' or 'imitation feta.'  This is costly, unnecessary, and can reduce consumer demand for the non-EU products.”

The U.S. dairy industry came out in force Wednesday, praising USTR’s decision to include the GI complaints in a report that primarily focuses on countries that do not protect the intellectual property of U.S. companies that do business overseas.

“Rather than trying to compete on a level playing field, Europe has tried to effectively institute a blockade of U.S. dairy,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “This is unacceptable and harms America’s dairy industry and the rural communities our farmers and processors support.”

Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, also weighed in.

“USTR has rightly taken Europe to task for their destructive and unfair campaign against American-made dairy exports, and in particular the high-quality cheeses produced by the dedicated men and women of the U.S. dairy industry,” he said. “USTR must continue to build upon this excellent precedent by making it a top priority to secure further commitments from our trade partners in future trade negotiations.”

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USTR says it is doing exactly that. The agency says its working with a long list of countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Vietnam to counteract European demands that they adhere to the GI protections.

The Trump administration also demanded anti-GI provisions in recent trade deals struck with Mexico, Canada and Japan. The problem though, is that those countries have already struck deals with the EU to protect some food names.

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