Europe won't own ‘parmesan,’ ‘bologna’ in Japan

Japan rejects EU attempts to confiscate many generic meat and cheese names through geographical indications.

The government of Japan, as part of its trade agreement with the European Union, has decided to assure the continued general use for many generic food terms, especially highly contested terms such as "parmesan" and "romano."

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) welcomed the news, even as CCFN seeks further assurances on several common terms still at risk. Japan has assured continued common use for the generic cheese names brie, camembert, cheddar, edam, emmental, gouda, grana, mozzarella, parmesan, pecorino, provolone and romano; for the meats bologna, bratwurst and mortadella, and for varietal terms such as "kalamata" for olives and "valencia" for oranges.

"Japan took the right steps in preserving the vast majority of terms that were of concern to CCFN members worldwide and, in doing so, helped maintain the choices and fair competition that will benefit Japanese consumers," CCFN executive director Jaime Castaneda said. "Now, we are urging continued consistency and fairness as they establish the finer points of the agreement so that names that are clearly generic in the marketplace will remain accessible to everyone."

Japan will provide a transition period of seven years for prior users of certain terms -- including cheese names asiago, feta, fontina and gorgonzola -- after which time the EU could have sole rights to these names; some of the details of this temporary "grandfathering" are still unclear, however.

"Japan can be viewed as a leader on this important issue if it follows its own law and allows for the cancellation of GIs (geographical indicators) over the course of the seven-year grace period that follows implementation of the trade agreement," Castaneda said. "We also expect Japan to ensure that all companies that make use of the targeted terms in Japan prior to implementation are able to retain their rights to that grace period."

In addition to these key issues, CCFN is seeking clarification on whether certain common meat terms that are part of compound GIs -- such as "salami" and "prosciutto" -- will remain generic.

CCFN worked extensively to communicate with Japanese officials in recent weeks about the harm that would be done to Japanese consumers, producers and retailers, as well as to relationships with key trading partners, if Japan granted sole rights to the EU to use these generic names on products in the Japanese marketplace.

"The EU's goal is simple: to benefit its own producers by improperly extending GIs to unfairly restrict competition," Castaneda pointed out. "This decision by Japan shows that governments are catching on to -- and rejecting -- this scheme as harmful to their nations' own interests."

When only one set of producers is allowed to use a generic name for a product, the result is less competition, higher prices and less consumer choice, Castaneda said. CCFN maintains that the EU should be permitted to protect only legitimate specialty names used in full -- usually compound names that contain a geographic region, such as Mortadella Bologna, Prosciutto Toscano, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana or Gouda Holland.

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