A bipartisan group of Senators Tuesday said the EU's efforts to restrict U.S. production and exports of products carrying European geographical names will not be tolerated.
The Senators delivered an opposition letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging them to defend common names, especially as U.S. negotiators go back to the table with the EU this week to work on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
"We urge you to make clear to your EU counterparts that the U.S. will reject any proposal in the [TTIP] negotiations now underway that would restrict in any way the ability of U.S. producers to use common cheese names," the letter states.
The letter commends the work the Administration has done to date in recognizing the efforts by the EU to restrict the use of such common names as "parmesan" and "feta", but warns that the EU is becoming increasingly aggressive in erecting these trade barriers.
According to international non-profit alliance the Consortium for Common Food Names, when food producers are unable to use common food names in either domestic or international trade, it hampers their ability to compete in established markets.
CCFN adds that it can be confusing for consumers by removing available products from the market and suggesting that there is only one place to get a given product, when in reality many choices exist.
"For consumers both here and abroad, the consequences of limiting familiar food names to just a few regional suppliers would be higher costs, fewer choices and greater confusion," said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. "No one country has any right to own common food names for their exclusive use. U.S. businesses should have the opportunity to offer their award-winning products, and let consumers decide what they want to buy."
For example, some U.S. cheese manufacturers have been making award-winning cheeses with common names like "asiago" and "muenster" for decades, CCFN says. These cheesemakers often label their products as "Made in America," while giving a nod to the historic origins of the cheese.
In this way, they and their counterparts in dozens of countries around the world have done the lion's share of the work building markets for these products, thereby expanding demand for products made in both Europe and in many other nations, CCFN says.
"Producers everywhere – whether in the United States, Costa Rica, Guatemala or Germany – have a right to use names that have been in the public domain," said Errico Auricchio, Chairman of the CCFN.
CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda called the issue "a fast-growing agricultural trade barrier."
"While the letter focuses on cheese, which has been particularly hard hit by the EU's most recent efforts, European GIs encompass many food and beverage categories, meaning many areas of food trade worldwide are potentially threatened by the EU's unfair claims to the exclusive use of common food names and common-place terms such as classic, ruby and chateau," Castaneda said.
For example, Canada agreed as part of its recently concluded FTA with the EU to impose new restrictions on the use of "feta" and other common cheese names. The EU has instigated similar trade barriers throughout Latin America, and is expected to pursue such restrictions in its negotiations with many Asian countries.
According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, over the past five years, U.S. cheese exports have been growing by an average of 40% annually, leading to a record high of $1.4 billion in U.S. cheese sales abroad last year. Those huge sales led the United States became the largest single country cheese exporter in the world in 2013.