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For the first time in a major trade agreement, language has been approved in the new U.S.-MexicoCanada Agreement (USMCA) that protects common food names.

Companies and cheese makers in North America that produce foods that bear generic names like "feta," "parmesan," and "harvarti," are praising the USMCA trade deal. The generic names—referred to as geographical indicators (GI)—have become a bone of contention between the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and the European Union (EU) that has endeavored to restrict the use of some common food names within trade and economic negotiations including Canada, Mexico and a handful of Asian countries.

The deal establishes a non-exhaustive list of commonly used cheese names that may not be restricted by Mexico moving forward, including “mozzarella”, “cheddar”, “provolone” and others.

'In addition, Canada and Mexico will be adopting GI parameters that make it more difficult for any nation to register new GIs that are common food names, and common name users will be able to oppose GI applications that would monopolize use of generic terms," said Jaime Castaneda,CCFN executive director in a news release. “The U.S. Administration demonstrated great leadership in pushing forward many key concepts for effective GI policy, which are of benefit to consumers and producers throughout North America, and which CCFN has long promoted and worked on with government leaders." 

Some of these key concepts include commitments on transparency and the ability for stakeholders to object to pending GIs that may infringe on their rights to use generic terms.”

 In addition, Canada and Mexico will be adopting GI parameters that make it more difficult for any nation to register new GIs that are common food names, and common name users will be able to oppose GI applications that would monopolize use of generic terms.

“These explicit considerations safeguarding generic terms are essential,” said CCFN Chairman Errico Auricchio, president of BelGioioso Cheese, “because the EU continues to move the lines on which names of cheeses, meats, wines and other products are fair game when it comes to abusing GI policies and monopolizing common names and terms.”

Without protections food producers around the world could be forces to re-label and re-brand their products, resulting in not only a financial loss but the loss of recognition among consumers familiar with these common foods.

CCFN officials say they've We’ve been troubled by the European Commission efforts on GIs for some time, but the recent activity of the EC, particularly in its work on trade agreements with other countries, is alarming. That includes Mexico.

 While praising U.S. government leadership in safeguarding generic terms, CCFN remains disappointed in the Mexican government for succumbing to pressures by the EU to give up a number of highly used common names within the Mexico-EU free trade agreement, demonstrating that CCFN’s work in the region is not yet done.

“We continue to work with the U.S. government and others to ensure that current trade to Mexico is minimally affected," Castaneda said.

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