Mexico Fails its Consumers, Trading Partners by Giving Away Common Names in EU Deal

June 4th, 2018


Mexican chorizo

Mexico appears poised to enact new restrictions on the use of common cheese names such as “parmesan,” “munster” and “feta” for products sold in Mexico, a development that runs counter to existing trade agreements with the United States, according to preliminary reports on the EU-Mexico free trade agreement. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but early information indicates Mexico will force cheese marketers from Mexico, the United States and other trading partners to phase out the use of some generic names, yielding to the EU’s desire to curtail competition in those cheese markets.

Generic terms such as parmesan, feta, munster, gorgonzola, asiago, fontina and neufchatel appear to be slated for future restrictions despite long-standing generic use — and familiarity with consumers — of many of these names in Mexico. And while Mexico has provided reassurance that plant varietals will not receive protection, the EU will be granted exclusive use of Valdepeñas as a geographical indication, even though the term is a registered wine grape varietal with U.S. regulatory agencies. Several other generic names of importance will remain generic: bologna, brie, camembert, chorizo, edam, emmental, gouda, grana, manchego (made with cow milk), mozzarella, pecorino, prosciutto, provolone, salami and valencia (for citrus products).

California Valdepeñas wine

California Valdepeñas wine

CCFN took a number of immediate actions to help energize the U.S. government to respond to Mexico’s new restrictions, particularly as the U.S. renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Led by Senators Baldwin and Toomey, 27 senators signed onto a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and copied to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, stressing the need to address the EU-Mexico restrictions on GIs to ensure that the NAFTA renegotiation will facilitate trade rather than raise barriers.

At the same time, CCFN was joined by several U.S. farm and food industry groups on a letter to Ambassador Lighthizer citing the implications that the EU-Mexico free trade agreement will have on common food names and in particular potential U.S. exports to Mexico.

On June 1, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Orrin Hatch, and the committee’s ranking member, Ron Wyden, sent a letter to the Mexican ambassador to the United States expressing concern regarding additional geographical indications to be registered in Mexico as a result of the EU-Mexico free trade agreement. The senators said the new GI registration “…may restrict the use of common food names by U.S. suppliers,” which would create a “new and unwarranted barrier to trade” between the U.S. and Mexico. The senators urged Mexico to “ensure that the implementation of the EU-Mexico agreement will not nullify or impair market access commitments under NAFTA.”

CCFN also issued a joint press release with U.S. dairy organizations National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council, expressing disappointment that Mexico has limited market access for other suppliers by restricting the use of common food names that have been used in the Mexican market for years.

CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda holds U.S.-made gorgonzola in a Mexican Wal-Mart store; He was in Mexico visiting government officials and industry groups in March.

CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda holds U.S.-made gorgonzola in a Mexican Wal-Mart store; He was in Mexico visiting government officials and industry groups in March.

“The U.S. must make it clear to countries that violate trade agreements that there are consequences to their actions – particularly during the current NAFTA negotiations.” said CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda.

“We hope as the details are hammered out that Mexico carefully weighs the impact of its remaining decisions pertaining to GIs and common names,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

CCFN has been working with the Mexican food industry in the past two years to try to push back on EU efforts to confiscate common names.

“CCFN is committed to using all legal avenues to continue its work to combat the market restricting impacts of the EU’s efforts,” said Castaneda. “We are hopeful that the Mexican Congress recognizes that this rogue approach to GI policy is bad for consumers and ultimately benefits a handful of European producers at the expense of Mexico’s own industry.”