U.S. rejects EU anti-trade agenda that would control cheese names

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
EU policies would intentionally disadvantage U.S. suppliers in global markets by blocking their ability to use common cheese names such as fontina, gorgonzola, asiago and feta cheeses.

U.S. dairy officials applauded the U.S. Trade Representative's Office for rejecting Europe's anti-trade agenda that would prevent other countries from using common-name food products.

The U.S. Special 301 Report, issued earlier this week by USTR, categorically rejects EU policies that seek to intentionally disadvantage U.S. suppliers in global markets by blocking their ability to use common names such as fontina, gorgonzola, asiago and feta cheeses.

"The EU pressures trading partners to prevent all producers, other than in certain EU regions, from using certain product names," read the report. "This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products and produced in countries around the world."

According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Consortium for Common Food Names, if the EU were to prevail in its quest to limit the use of a variety of common cheese names—known as geographic indications (GI)—that long ago originated in Europe, it could cost the U.S. dairy industry between $9.5 billion to $20.2 billion in revenue losses.

Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council says that Europe's actions infringe on the rights of U.S. producers and imposes unwarranted market barriers to U.S. goods, according to the USTR.

"Europe has disadvantaged the U.S. dairy industry for too long by abusing geographical indications (GI) policies," Vilsack said. "We face unfair barriers around the world because of Europe. USTR should be commended for recognizing the problem, and we look forward to working with them to rectify it."

The EU is currently pushing for more restrictive language as it forges trade deals within its own borders and has secured GI status for many of its products in trade agreements with other countries.

"We see the EU's efforts as a clear effort to restrict free trade. Here in the U.S. we have seen European groups try to take control of specific names, including parmesan, asiago, romano and gruyere," said Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of Marketing and Industry Relations for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. "Their goal is to increase their market share by blocking U.S. competition here and abroad and force U.S. companies to use new names for cheeses that have been produced in Wisconsin for a hundred years."

Vilsack urged the USTR to prioritize securing binding commitments from America's current trading partners to prevent future GI restrictions. The market access preservation commitments secured with Mexico as part of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, he said, provide a positive precedent to build upon.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, also urged the Administration to take into account the lopsided dairy trade imbalance between the United States and Europe in formulating policies to tackle the EU's predatory attacks on U.S. dairy exports.

Europe sent $1.8 billion in dairy goods to the U.S. market in 2018 but only imported $145 million of U.S. products, even though America is a major dairy supplier to the rest of the world.

"Trade is supposed to be a two-way street," Mulhern noted. "America's struggling U.S. dairy producers deserve a lot better than the current one-way trade relationship with the European Union whereby they sell us a billion dollars of cheese each year while erecting walls to our ability to compete head to head with them overseas."

The EU recently signaled its desire to negotiate a new trade deal with the United States. A major sticking point, however, is that EU executive commission officials have refused to include agricultural products in the talks.

The bloc's member countries said that the new deal will focus exclusively on eliminating tariffs on industrial goods.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the commission wants to wrap the talks up within six months, and that she would contact her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer to work out when formal negotiations might begin.