Names at Risk
Non-European cheese producers can no longer sell asiago, feta, fontina or gorgonzola in Korea—at least not under those names. The restriction is due solely to the EU’s demands under its free trade agreement (FTA) with Korea. But this could be just the tip of the iceberg.
The European Commission is pursuing a multi-pronged international effort on common names:
- It is pressing to include geographical indication provisions in potential talks with the United States that could bring naming restrictions to the U.S. market.
- It is working with China to encourage development of a geographical indications system that aligns with EU views. China already agreed to a “10 for 10” deal under which the two nations would swap and honor 10 of each of their geographical indications.
- It is working to influence Japan’s consideration of a geographical indication (GI) system through exploratory FTA discussions and separately with the country’s Ag Ministry to encourage the adoption of an EU-style geographical indications system.
- It inserted naming provisions into FTAs with Central America, Colombia and Peru.
- It is working to include such provisions in its FTA with Canada.
- Perhaps most shocking, it is processing applications in the EU to provide geographical indication protection to two cheeses (danbo and havarti) that have long had Codex standardized names.
The list below contains examples of several common food names that have been banned, as well as names that could face similar restrictions. This list is not all inclusive and contains names from around the world. Actions by the European Commission and related European court rulings put several of these common names at direct risk for monopolization attempts.
- monterey/monterey jack
- …and more
If the EU were to succeed in monopolizing many terms that they consider to be uniquely European; consumers, producers and manufacturers all around the world could lose the ability to buy or make many quality foods that can be easily recognized by consumers. In fact, in the United States alone, the U.S. Dairy Export Council estimates that production of roughly $4.2 billion worth of cheeses by companies of all sizes could be impacted.
A Small Slice of the Pie
The EU has protections in place for approximately 1,000 food-related geographical indications (GIs) alone. (See the list of all registered GIs here.)
The vast majority of these geographical indications pose no current or potential conflicts with the use of common names. Challenges have arisen only in the few dozen cases where EU actions or court precedents put at risk common names. This happens when the EU or courts approve of a geographical indication protection for a common name, or include it as part of a component of a geographical indication name, without the express assurance that the existence of the geographical indication places no global constraint on the usage of that common name.
The Consortium for Common Food Names seeks to preserve global marketplace opportunities for the vast majority those full geographical indication terms in ways that also safeguard the usage of relevant common names.
No one should try to claim exclusive rights to names that long ago entered into customary common usage around the world. Doing so not only severely undermines the marketability of foods produced outside the protected region, but also impairs the value of tariff concessions that were granted in the WTO and in bilateral and regional free trade agreements.