The Consortium distributes a quarterly newsletter to share the latest information about the work we are doing to defend common food and wine terms. Keep up to speed on current threats and new successes by joining our email list.
New Frontiers in the Fight for Common Names
For years, we have worked together to take action against the European Union’s attempts to restrict the use of common food names and unfairly close foreign markets. This has required a tireless dedication to advancing fairer trade rules. All of our hard work has yielded incredible success and I’m proud to report some of our most recent wins in this quarter’s newsletter. Some of them are among our biggest accomplishments to date.
Most notably, with your help, we’ve secured a new frontier in the fight for common names as more than 60 Senators signed a letter in July urging the U.S. government to make greater strides to protect common food and wine terms. This letter helps set the stage for a stronger and more consistent U.S. policy to secure safeguards for common food and wine terms in all trade agreements moving forward.
We also celebrated a milestone win as the U.S. Patent and Trade Office declared that gruyere is a generic style of cheese. This was a decisive rejection of attempts by the Swiss and French to confiscate the term and the result of years of hard work with the help of many of our members and allies.
New frontiers come with new challenges. However, these unjustified trade barriers harm farmers, limit choices for consumers and put manufacturing jobs across an essential sector at risk. Our members are counting on us to help provide stability during this difficult time and ensure critical overseas opportunities do not vanish due to unjust GI restrictions.
Thank you for standing steadfast with us in our commitment to protect common food names. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next.
Common Names Take Priority in Congress
At the beginning of this year, CCFN formed a cross-sector coalition of supporters of common food names and wine terms. The goal was to take targeted action to spur Congress to urge this Administration, as well as future ones, to match the EU’s aggressive and predatory stance on GIs with new ideas and policy tools to most effectively defend U.S. companies’ rights to use common food and wine terms.
In July, CCFN secured a key win, as 61 Senators sent a bipartisan Senate letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue urging that the U.S. government enhance their common food name and wine term protections as a core policy objective in all trade-related discussions. Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) led this effort.
It appears that this message has been clearly received. USTR Lighthizer made explicit note of the EU’s anti-trade GI campaign in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, writing, “The EU uses its trade deals in many cases not to advance trade liberalization, but to force other countries to adopt thinly veiled protectionist measures like ‘geographic indications,’ which prohibit the use of common labeling terms for wine and food items produced outside the EU.”
UnCommon Heroes: Champions on Capitol Hill for Common Names
As noted above, more than 60 Senators recently sent a letter urging the U.S. government to enhance safeguards for common food names by making it a non-negotiable objective for all trade deals moving forward. This letter marked an important shift in the national conversation and policy considerations surrounding common food names.
While each Senator who signed the letter is a champion for common names, CCFN’s UnCommon Heroes this quarter are two of the Senators who stepped forward to help lead this effort: Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
CCFN White Paper to Address Common Names in Trade Agreements
While CCFN and its allies organized the letter on Capitol Hill, CCFN simultaneously worked on a legal analysis and proposal that detailed how U.S. could further build upon the meaningful gains in USMCA while keeping with U.S. law and past U.S. trade agreement precedents. CCFN provided this confidential analysis directly to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
Milestone Win as USPTO Says Gruyere is Generic
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has rejected a trademark application filed by French and Swiss gruyere manufacturers to trademark the generic term “gruyere” in the United States, finding that the term gruyere is a generic style of cheese. This decision handed a decisive win to CCFN and a coalition of other U.S. dairy sector stakeholders after a lengthy opposition.
CCFN, working alongside several of its members, as well as non-member companies that contributed to supporting the opposition filing, dedicated extensive time and resources throughout the litigation to demonstrate to USPTO that all cheesemakers and their customers had the right to continue to sell gruyere in the United States.
Monitoring Enforcement of USMCA Common Name Commitments
USMCA officially entered into force on July 1, activating its groundbreaking protections for common food names. These protections will more effectively combat the European Union’s (EU) efforts to seize exclusive use of common food and wine terms in the critical Mexican market.
However, as CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda noted in our press release: “There is no doubt that the EU will continue to seek to undermine our rights to use common food and wine terms, in both Mexico and around the world, and the U.S. government must be fully prepared to not only enforce the commitments made through USMCA, but also press forward on the inclusion of even more robust protections in all future trade negotiations.”
CCFN Reacts Quickly to MERCOSUR Mandates
CCFN received notice earlier this summer that all prior users of select common names identified as GIs in the EU-MERCOSUR free trade agreement (FTA) needed to provide proof of use in that market prior to the end of June in order to safeguard their rights. This was despite the fact that the EU and MERCOSUR have still not formally consented to be bound by the terms of the treaty by fully concluding it.
CCFN acted quickly but this was the latest warning flag that the EU-MERCOSUR FTA will be implemented without full transparency, with the potential to grievously harm those using common names in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Opportunity for New Precedent as Negotiations Between U.S. and Kenya Begin
Free trade negotiations between the U.S. and Kenya officially kicked off on July 7th. CCFN previously filed comments with the U.S. Trade Representative urging the U.S. government to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by these negotiations to build upon the advances made in USMCA and contain the EU’s aggressive misuse of geographical indications (GIs) to erect market access barriers. CCFN has followed its submission with virtual meetings with USTR and other government officials on the critical need to include common food name provisions in any completed deal with Kenya, as a successful deal could serve as a template for future negotiations with other trade partners in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
Pushing Back on Threats to Common Names…
CCFN is making big moves, but daily pushback against threats to common names remains the foundation of CCFN’s work. CCFN reviews potentially problematic trademark applications and invests in legal oppositions when merited. Below are some of CCFN’s most recent filings.
- Singapore: CCFN filed a request seeking that the GI Parmigiano Reggiano be registered in a way that does not prevent the use of the generic term
- United Arab Emirates: Filed an opposition to a gorgonzola trademark application.
- Turkey: Filed an opposition to a trademark that could harm CCFN member use of the common terms mozzarella and mortadella.
Other GI News from Around the World…
Pleas to Protect Cheese Put the Freeze on Deal
The European Union’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada is hanging in the balance after Cyprus voted against the deal because it did not contain sufficient protections for halloumi cheese. Despite years of efforts by Cypriots, the EU has not yet recognized halloumi as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). In fact, there is disagreement even within Cyprus about whether or not halloumi should receive the PDO label. An opinion article in Cyprus Mail states that “deep divisions emerged among Greek Cypriots with dairy producers and cattle breeders objecting to the specifications submitted for the PDO, stipulating that 50 per cent of the milk used for the cheese should come from sheep or goats. This would cut production of a €200 million industry by half, they argued.” And in an eyebrow-raising twist, POLITICO credits part of the problem to the European Commission using “halloumi as political leverage… to pressure for reunification of the island.” Turns out the protections granted by the European Commission are not always driven by a true desire to protect a unique product, sometimes they are also politically convenient tools.
Italy Pops the Bubble on Nosecco
The Consorzio Di Tutela Della Denominazione Di Origine Controllata Prosecco has firmly said no to a French producer’s clever spin on a non-alcoholic sparkling wine. The Consorzio filed an opposition to the name Nosecco and prevailed on the basis that the name was an infringement on the protections given to prosecco and consumers may be deceived by the play on words. According to the World Trademark Review, “[it] is yet to be seen whether [the producer] will withdraw and cease all use and sales of Nosecco in the United Kingdom following this registration-related decision or whether further action may be required by the Consorzio in this regard.” One could say that the Consorzio can pop the Nosecco, but that joke might fall flat now that its fizz is gone.
British GI Advocates Ire Misdirected
A quote in the Byline Times from Jean Blaylock, recently raised an alert for its misguided ill-will towards a U.S.-British trade agreement on the basis of common names. Blaylock said that protected GIs “can be really important for local economies and in supporting small businesses to make the most of distinct special traditions around food. It also guarantees the quality of products sold under these iconic names. The US trade deal wants to sweep this away so that transnational agribusinesses can sell us ersatz, mass produced versions from anywhere in the world.” It’s important that British advocates of stringent GIs remember that European immigrants carried these food traditions around the world over hundreds of years. The producers who make these cheese or meat products now – in the U.S. or markets elsewhere – have an equal right to use the same common food names passed down by their European ancestors. (Also worth noting is the fact that the U.S. has to date had no quibble with existing UK GIs; the Transatlantic ire has largely been drive by other EU member states’ GIs infringing on the use of common food terms.)
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