Dairy products including milk, cheese, butter and yogurt displayed on white wood nevodka/iStock/Thinkstock

USTR report outlines steps to defend common food names

New Administration outlines extensive efforts to stem EU’s attempts to use geographical indicators to erect barriers to U.S. exports.

A report on intellectual property issued Friday by the U.S. Trade Representative's Office (USTR) outlined the Trump Administration's continuing commitment to curtailing the damaging abuses of geographical indications (GIs) -- particularly by the European Union.

The report highlights ongoing threats to U.S. companies that legally use common food names both within the U.S. and in global trade. USTR's annual "Special 301 Report" outlines extensive efforts the Administration is making in numerous countries to stem the EU's efforts to use GIs to erect barriers to U.S. exports.

The U.S. dairy industry joined the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) in hailing the report for sending a strong, positive signal on how the new Administration plans to tackle these types of trade and intellectual property issues to preserve jobs and safeguard global opportunities for U.S. companies.

"Many countries protect legitimate GIs, including the United States," said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN, an international alliance dedicated to preserving rights to use common food names. "When properly targeted to protect unique regional products, GIs can be a useful intellectual property tool for some producers, but the EU's approach is far from properly targeted. Rather, it is a system designed to steal commonly used names from those who built markets for those products and monopolize use of those terms in foreign and domestic markets."

Tom Vilsack, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said, "We appreciate the many positive actions of USTR on this important issue. As trade policy strategy is developed this year, we urge the Administration to build further upon the U.S. government's past successes in pushing back against the EU's global GI agenda. This work should continue to include both bilateral engagement with our trading partners and incorporation into any trade agreement discussions."

"We look forward to working with the Administration and with governments of other nations on proper regulation of GIs to avoid harmful losses of U.S. cheese sales opportunities," Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, added. "We cannot allow our trading partners to chip away at the value of prior World Trade Organization or free trade agreement concessions through unjustified restrictions on common terms."

"Countries that are signing bilateral trade agreements with the European Union have been granting protection for several generic cheese names used in the United States. Those agreements hurt U.S. cheese companies as well as the dairy farmers that supply the milk," said Dr. Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Assn. "Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Europe. The EU's bid to gain exclusive rights to these names is totally unjustified. We're pleased to see the Administration take on the important issue of GIs, and we look forward to continuing to work with the USTR on the issue."

Abuse of GIs could affect a variety of sectors, from dairy, wine and meat to horticulture and rice. The U.S. dairy organizations, CCFN and wine and grocery industry groups all filed comments to USTR earlier this year expressing concern with the growing threat to U.S. manufacturers of foods with common names. Among the specific requests to USTR were to: hold trading partners accountable for their commitments, preserve market access negotiated through earlier trade agreements and prevent competitors from monopolizing widely used generic terms like feta and prosciutto (see CCFN's comments).

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