Trump Administration Commits to Continued Staunch Defense of U.S. Food and Beverage Manufacturers Using Common Food Names

April 28th, 2017

A report on intellectual property issued Friday by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) outlined the Trump Administration’s continuing commitment to curtailing the damaging abuses of geographical indications (GIs) – particularly by the European Union (EU).

The report highlighted ongoing threats to U.S. companies that legally use common food names both within the United States and in global trade. USTR’s annual Special 301 Report outlined extensive efforts that the administration is making in numerous countries to stem the EU’s efforts to use GIs to erect barriers to U.S. exports.

The U.S. dairy industry joined the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) in hailing the report for sending a strong, positive signal on how the new administration plans to tackle these types of trade and intellectual property issues to preserve jobs and safeguard global opportunities for U.S. companies.

“Many countries protect legitimate GIs, including the United States,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN, an international alliance dedicated to preserving rights to use common food names. “When properly targeted to protect unique regional products, GIs can be a useful intellectual property tool for some producers. But the EU’s approach is far from properly targeted. Rather, it is a system designed to steal commonly used names from those who built markets for those products and monopolize use of those terms in foreign and domestic markets.”

“We appreciate the many positive actions of USTR on this important issue. As trade policy strategy is developed this year, we urge the administration to build further upon the U.S. government’s past successes in pushing back against the EU’s global GI agenda,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. “This work should continue to include both bilateral engagement with our trading partners and incorporation into any trade agreement discussions.”

“We look forward to working with the administration and with governments of other nations on proper regulation of GIs to avoid harmful losses of U.S. cheese sales opportunities. We cannot allow our trading partners to chip away at the value of prior World Trade Organization or free trade agreement concessions through unjustified restrictions on common terms,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

“Countries that are signing bilateral trade agreements with the European Union have been granting protection for several generic cheese names used in the United States. Those agreements hurt U.S. cheese companies as well as the dairy farmers that supply the milk,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of IDFA. “Names like feta and parmesan belong to everyone, not just a small group of producers in Europe. The EU’s bid to gain exclusive rights to these names is totally unjustified. We’re pleased to see the administration take on the important issue of GIs, and we look forward to continuing to work with the USTR on the issue.”

Abuse of GIs could impact a variety of sectors, from dairy, wine and meat to horticulture and rice. The U.S. dairy organizations, CCFN, and wine and grocery industry groups all filed comments to USTR earlier this year expressing concern with the growing threat to U.S. manufacturers of foods with common names. Among the specific requests to the USTR:  hold trading partners accountable for their commitments, preserve market access negotiated through earlier trade agreements and prevent competitors from monopolizing widely used generic terms like feta and prosciutto (see CCFN’s comments).