U.S. Food Processors Worry About EU Geographical Indications Lists

Oct. 5, 2017
'Parmesan,' 'vintage,' 'prosecco,' even 'bologna' could be locked up by EU if Japan and Mexico consent.

U.S. food industry groups representing farmers and food manufacturers across several sectors sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Oct. 3 asking U.S. representatives to urge Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur nations not to agree to geographical indications (GIs) being considering for approval with the European Union (EU). Otherwise, common food & beverage terms such as “parmesan,” “vintage” and “bologna” may be locked up by European nations and prohibited for use in the U.S. and other countries.

"In its trade discussions with Japan and Mexico, the EU is currently pushing approval for lists of geographical indications that include many common food names in an effort to monopolize those terms and block market access for various foods, wines and other beverages," said a news release carrying the names of 12 U.S. food industry groups. "Japan and Mexico are closing their comment periods on the lists within the next few days, after which they are expected to finalize their negotiations with the EU."

“On behalf of American farmers and food manufacturers across this country, we ask for your direct attention to an issue that could have a significant negative impact on U.S. market access with two major trade partners: Mexico and Japan,” the letter states. “If the U.S. government firmly expresses its concerns now to Mexico and Japan regarding the importance of safeguarding common names and terms for all to use, both nations might be more inclined to take the right and just steps in these discussions.

"For the same reason, we strongly encourage firm and clear communications on these points with the Mercosur bloc of countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), the U.S. trading partner region most likely to next initiate a similar process to the ones currently underway in Mexico and Japan in light of ongoing EU-Mercosur FTA negotiations.”

The letter is signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, Brewers Association, Consortium for Common Food Names, Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation, North American Meat Institute, United Fresh, U.S. Dairy Export Council, USA Rice and Wine Institute.

The letter claims the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative already is concerned, saying, "The EU GI agenda remains highly concerning, especially because of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of trademarks and other IP [intellectual property] rights held by U.S. producers, and imposes barriers on market access for American-made goods and services that rely on the use of common names, such as parmesan or feta." It claims the EU is trying to reserve "long-standing and widely used grape varieties such as 'prosecco' to now be GIs reserved exclusively for Italian use."

“Many U.S. companies – and the farmers who provide them with raw goods – will be harmed if Japan and Mexico fully accept the EU lists as is without pushing back and objecting to the inclusion of common terms,” the industry letter states.

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