CCFN Educates Attaches on Common Names

CCFN jumped at the opportunity to provide crucial education on common food names to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) attachés and other Washington, DC staff during the week of July 11th. The United States posts agricultural attachés in over 100 diplomatic facilities around the world – men and women who serve as the front lines for engaging foreign governments on issues impacting U.S. agricultural trade – including how common food names are used and protected around the world.

CCFN’s Shawna Morris outlined the broad and serious implications of the EU’s GI overreach on U.S. farmers, food and beverage processors, foodservice operators and retailers. She outlined a three-step process by which FAS could help preserve fair export opportunities for all including monitoring GIs in each market and sharing those findings with Washington, engaging with relevant government officials to defend market access and maintaining persistence in addressing the issue with foreign governments.

A second session coordinated by the U.S. Dairy Export Council included a trivia contest and cheese tasting, where CCFN staff highlighted several cheeses utilizing common food names that are currently at risk due to the EU’s monopolization efforts, giving attendees a taste of what consumers around the world might lose if the EU were to succeed.

CCFN Calls Out Brazil on Inconsistencies Regarding Prior Users

When the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply recently released a list of prior users able to use common food terms recognized as GIs under the Mercosur-European Union Free Trade Agreement, CCFN wasted no time raising serious concerns with the new list. The May 2022 list omits retailers and importers in an excessively narrow interpretation of prior users. This comes in contrast with the original list published in September of 2020.

CCFN immediately requested that the U.S. government engage in direct government-to-government discussions with Brazil to revise this restrictive list to include retailers, importers, shippers and other entities. CCFN believes this revised list, if not challenged, will have wider implications and restrict trade for common name users in the region.

CCFN explained to the U.S. government that the new list repeals the prior user list developed by the Brazilian Government in 2020. CCFN contributed to the inclusion of 39 companies as part of the 2020 final list of prior users including multiple retailers and importers. No explanation has been provided as to why the 2020 list was replaced. In addition, only Brazilian companies and a limited number of Uruguayan and Argentinean companies are on the new list – and all of them producers.

In its appeal to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, CCFN highlighted this as a clear example of the EU promoting its broader GI monopolization policy. The list is explicitly tied to the Mercosur-EU FTA, an agreement which has not yet been signed, providing no legal basis for enforcement under the local legal framework of the countries affected.

Update on CCFN Trademark Project

CCFN continues to pursue the registration of multiple trademark logos in several key markets around the world. These trademarks will be used to proactively establish the rights of common name users to retain generic cheese names and are to be used by members and other interested companies once approved in a market. Through the third quarter of 2022 several trademarks were approved for use in markets around the world. Thirteen trademarks have been approved across five markets. Those collaborating with CCFN on the use of these marks, should reach out to CCFN staff for more information.

CCFN Shines Spotlight on Need to Retain Level Playing Field Online

The protection of GIs in internet domain names is an emerging issue where CCFN is working to preserve the rights of common name users. Currently, the EU is attempting to expand their monopolization campaign to online domains. CCFN seized upon the opportunity to describe this issue and the problems it creates for food producers around the world in an article with the World Trademark Review, a widely read global publication on trademark and related issues. Another area of CCFN concern is the EU proposal to expand protections to GIs used in ingredients of a dish. While this is a complex issue, the crux of the concern turns on the territoriality and the scope of protection offered – issues that are far from resolved. CCFN also used the article to raise broader concerns with the EU’s GI campaign in bilateral trade agreements.

Strengthening Common Names Support in the Americas

Latin America faces a growing set of common food name challenges, driven by the EU’s monopolization campaign executed through local trade agreements. To address this, CCFN’s Executive Director traveled to Argentina and Uruguay in July and convened a meeting with key Mexican allies in August to foster greater collaboration in support of a level playing field. During these meetings, CCFN staff urged local allies to push back against the geographical indications advocated by the Europeans that harm CCFN member’s export opportunities.

EU Proposal on GIs and Sustainability (G/TBT/N/EU/895)

eu flagThe European Commission published a proposal to revise geographical indications (GIs) legislation that provides producer groups with the opportunity to voluntarily include sustainability criteria going beyond the requirements for GI product specifications under EU law. The text also states that the Commission may adopt secondary legislation to define sustainability standards in different sectors.

While CCFN welcomes initiatives to improve sustainability, we believe that policy instruments of a horizontal nature are best suited to pursue that objective. In addition, the introduction of sustainability criteria for GIs will likely lead to new common name restrictions imposed on producers outside the EU. CCFN submitted comments in August providing the common name users’ perspective and calling for the right to use common names to be respected in the development of the final version of the law.

The notification can be accessed here.