WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2016 - The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) isn’t just about increasing foreign market access for U.S. exporters – it’s also a defense against the EU’s push to expand geographical indication (GI) protection for European food names across the globe.

That’s one of the latest rallying cries from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is still fighting for support to get Congress to ratify the 12-member trade deal.

At a U.S. Dairy Export Council board meeting last week, USTR Michael Froman warned the U.S. dairy industry that if the TPP isn’t ratified, the EU will be free to extend its GI protections to countries like Japan. Froman refused to take questions after he spoke to the closed-to-press meeting, but attendees talked to Agri-Pulse.

Froman’s remarks about the importance of TPP and protecting the U.S. dairy industry from the EU’s GI demands were well-received by a room packed with dairy exporters, the sources said.

The EU has already reached agreements with countries including South Korea to protect European food names. When the EU and South Korea ratified their Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2011, the Koreans agreed to European demands for GI protection.

Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for trade policy at the Export Council, said that hurts U.S. exporters who now can’t sell goods with protected names to a major Asian dairy market.

Froman, according to attendees at the Friday meeting, told dairy industry representatives that the TPP offers a bulwark against the EU’s quest to expand the protection of names like Asiago cheese and Black Forest ham that U.S. producers say are common and should be usable by all.

Castaneda would not comment on Froman’s remarks, but said his group is united in support of the TPP because it recognizes the danger of the EU’s efforts around the world. The EU’s GI agreements with South Korea, Costa Rica and other countries are already curtailing U.S. exports to those places, Castaneda said.

The TPP, he said, would be the first major opportunity for U.S. cheese exporters to throw up a roadblock to the European Union.

“For the first time we’re going to have very specific parameters that the EU will have to follow if they want to comply with TPP,” said Castaneda, who is also executive director of the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN).

The stakes are high for TPP. Failure could mean more export market losses, he said. EU negotiators are already talking to officials in TPP countries including Japan, Mexico and Vietnam about bilateral trade deals that would contain GI protections.

Errico Auricchio, president and founder of the Green Bay, Wisconsin-based BelGioioso Cheese Inc., told Agri-Pulse in an interview that his company has already lost business because of South Korea’s trade deal with the EU. The damage would be worse if Japan were to reach a similar pact with the Europeans, he said. BelGioioso exports Asiago, Gorgonzola, Parmesan and many other cheeses to Japan, Auricchio said. 

“Wherever they go,” Auricchio said about the European trade negotiators, “they try to get as much as they can.”

The TPP does not forbid Japan and the other 11 trade pact countries from agreeing to the EU’s demands on GI protection, but it does put a mechanism in place that would allow the U.S. or other nations to challenge any actions.

Canada is the one exception. The TPP, if ratified, would come too late to put that dispute mechanism in place for GIs in Canada because that country has already agreed to many of the European demands in a separate trade pact, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

In that agreement, Castaneda said, “Canada decided to completely disregard their intellectual property rights.”

While the U.S. dairy sector is solidly in support of the TPP, the Obama administration last week tried to reinforce its argument that expanding trade and trade pacts like TPP are crucial to production growth.

“Over the past 15 years, U.S. dairy exports have grown by more than fivefold, reaching a record $7.1 billion in 2014,” the USDA concluded in a new report released on Friday by the Office of the Chief Economist. “While 2015 exports decreased due to strong global dairy supplies, weaker import demand, and an appreciation of the U.S. dollar, the longer-term USDA 10-year forecast projects record export levels.”

And trade pacts like the TPP will be paramount to achieving that growth, Froman said in a statement released with the USDA report.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership would open a valve that will let milk flow more freely to new markets in the Asia Pacific,” Froman said. “The (U.S. International Trade Commission) found that the dairy industry would see net exports to TPP partners – subtracting any increase in imports from New Zealand, Australia and Canada – grow by $1.6 billion.”


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