U.S. Mulls NAFTA Modernization; CCFN Calls for GI Provisions

August 31st, 2017

Any new negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should include specific due process provisions on geographical indications (GIs) and should safeguard common food and beverage names, in continuation of existing U.S. priorities on the escalating issue of the role of GIs in global food and agricultural trade. That’s the message sent by CCFN in June to the U.S. Administration on NAFTA modernization in filing formal comments and testifying at an inter-agency hearing on the topic.

The first round of negotiations for modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico took place in Washington, D.C., in mid-August. In mid-July CCFN was pleased to see the U.S. Trade Representative include in its NAFTA summary objectives, “Prevent the undermining of market access for U.S. products through the improper use of a country’s system for protecting or recognizing geographical indications, including failing to ensure transparency and procedural fairness and protecting generic terms.”

“CCFN and our allies want nothing more than to be able to enjoy the same rights that other agricultural exporters expect – the right to retain the ability to export our safe products – and to be afforded the same type of intellectual property (IP) system safeguards that are regarded as commonplace for other forms of IP,” said CCFN Senior Director Shawna Morris.

The European Union (EU) has been waging a predatory strategy on GIs that is designed to monopolize commonly used names for many cheeses, wines, meats and other foods, Morris said, including semi-generic, descriptive and traditional terms, even though it is often non-European producers who have built global markets for those products. The EU has already worked to disrupt North American trade in these products through provisions in the soon-to-be-implemented Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement (CETA). Those provisions were created in a manner that entirely bypassed Canada’s intellectual property system, in the process trampling on the rights of Canada’s trading partners.

On the heels of that, the EU is now involved in FTA expansion negotiations with Mexico and is believed to be pressing Mexico to similarly disregard intellectual property system safeguards and prior trade commitments – to the detriment of both Mexico’s food industry and its trading partners.

Morris directed the Administration to the Trans-Pacific Partnership IP Chapter text on GIs as a positive starting point from which to build further, and also touted the importance of including the Wine and Distilled Spirits Annex, which established parameters for the labeling of products while preserving the ability of regulators to ensure consumer protection.

CCFN’s submission to USTR can be found here