WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2016 - The European Union’s insistence that geographical indications (GIs) be a part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) is looking to be more of a roadblock than ever before, according to documents and industry officials.

U.S. negotiators have never showed any signs of giving in to EU demands on GI protections for food names like Asiago cheese or Black Forest ham, but the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is promising its 28 member states that its negotiators will not relent.

A “declaration” issued by the EC to its member states, a copy of which was viewed by Agri-Pulse, assures European government leaders that negotiators are “committed to achieving the best possible level of protection of … geographical indications under ongoing or future negotiations of trade agreements in light of the market situation in each trading partner and the interests of the Member States.”

The document was drawn up to address the recently negotiated Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) pact between the EU and Canada, but David Salmonsen, a senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it’s also a clear sign that the Commission is promising to make the protection of GIs an issue in all of its bilateral agreements.

The U.S. dairy sector is irate that Canada agreed to European demands on GIs because of the damage it would do to U.S. exports of protected cheeses like Asiago to Canadian buyers. U.S. exporters are already counting up the losses in sales to countries like South Korea and Costa Rica, both of which agreed to European GI restrictions.

The ramifications for the U.S. as it negotiates T-TIP are very clear, said Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for trade policy for the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“The European Commission is clearly indicating to their member states that this unfortunate surrendering by Canada of its own intellectual property rights and prior commitments to its trading partners are not a precedent and the EU will ask for more moving forward,” Castaneda told Agri-Pulse

Although not formally under negotiation, the U.S. has agreed to discuss the Europeans’ GI demands. Those talks took up more than a day during the last round of T-TIP talks in New York when both sides met earlier this month.

The more GI protections are discussed, the more nervous the U.S. farming and food sectors get. That fear prompted the Consortium for Common Food Names – a group sponsored by organizations like the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council – to commission a study on what would happen if the EU demands were ever agreed to.

The conclusions of the report are dire. Researchers predicted that if the U.S. dairy sector were unable to use names like Asiago, feta and Parmesan, there would be a 21 percent reduction in U.S. cheese consumption over 10 years, costing the dairy industry about $5.2 billion in lost sales. One exemption that EU negotiators agreed to in CETA was to allow a grandfather clause for Canadian producers of feta cheese. Producers already making feta will be able to continue to do so under the trade pact.

But don’t expect the Europeans to agree to those kind of exemptions in the future. The “declaration” document recognizes complaints from member state Greece over the exemption and specifically promises that the exemption “does not create a precedent for ongoing or future negotiations.”

The EU document also pledges that Canada will not be allowed to disregard the GI restrictions: “The Commission confirms its intention, in view of the CETA agreement, to ensure strict implementation of the protection of geographical indications foreseen in this Agreement, inter alia, of its provisions on administrative enforcement, and regarding entities entitled to use exceptions …”

Food names in the U.S. aren’t the only thing under fire from EU negotiators, according to Tom LaFaille, vice president and international trade counsel for the U.S.-based Wine Institute.

The U.S. and EU signed a pact in 2006 that included agreements on a long list of grape and wine names that would be restricted to U.S. producers, but La Faille told Agri-Pulse that the Europeans have been trying to expand the protections under T-TIP.

LaFaille said EU negotiators are now trying to protect common names that are ubiquitous on U.S. wine labels, such as chateau, burgundy, prosecco and even Chablis.

“We had negotiations in 2006 and they need to stick to that agreement,” LaFaille said. “We’re talking about millions of dollars in brands that have been developed in the U.S.” For now, LaFaille said, U.S. negotiators have refused to budge on the new wine label demands by the Europeans during T-TIP negotiations.

But the Europeans are facing a potentially major setback with CETA before T-TIP negotiations end. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is still planning to arrive in Brussels on Thursday to sign CETA, but Belgium announced Monday that the country was not ready to agree to it because of opposition in the country’s region of Wallonia, according to press reports from Europe.

Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, is quoted by The Guardian as saying, “We encourage all parties to find a solution. There’s yet time.”


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