Common Names Consortium notes labeling gains, limits in USMCA
The Consortium for Common Food Names, an international nonprofit alliance that defends the use of generic names for many food products on which the European Union wants to place geographical indication restrictions (GIs), said Monday that the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement announced last week contains important provisions for the protection of common names.
But officials noted that the new provisions will have a limited effect on the ability of U.S. dairy companies to sell certain cheeses in Mexico and Canada.
“USMCA marks a sea change in GI policy, recognizing the equal importance of the protection of distinctive products through GIs, and the defense of generic terms long used in the marketplace,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN).
“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,” Castaneda said.
“These include commitments on transparency and the ability for stakeholders to object to pending GIs that may infringe on their rights to use generic terms.”
The USMCA marks the first time the United States has specifically included reference to the rights of generic name users within a trade agreement — a goal CCFN has been working toward for many years, according to Castaneda, who is also a senior vice president of policy strategy and international trade at the National Milk Producers Federation.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
CCFN maintains that European settlers in the New World countries brought many products and the recipes for making them with them, and have manufactured them for decades and promoted them.
“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.”
But CCFN also said “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.”
“The confiscation of these generic terms is disruptive to commerce and to pre-existing trade relationships, and in the end does not benefit Mexican retailers, producers or consumers,” Castaneda said. “We continue to work with the U.S. government and others to ensure that current trade to Mexico is minimally affected.”
CCFN did not emphasize Canada in the news release, even though Canada has also signed a free-trade agreement with the EU in which it agreed to use GIs.
In an email, Castaneda explained that the EU-Mexico agreement is more immediately important because U.S. producers already sell a lot of cheese in Mexico.
Castaneda said, “We have been extremely critical of Canada in the past, especially during the finalization of the agreement with the EU. We have even indicated our desire to seek a WTO (World Trade Organization) case against Canada for disregarding their own intellectual property laws as well as WTO TBT (technical barriers to trade) rules. ”
“However, as you can imagine, unlike Mexico, we didn’t have the level of market access in Canada that we had with Mexico,” he said.
“At this time, the EU–Canada agreement had been in place, while the EU–Mexico agreement remains agreed only in principle.
“Unlike Canada, in Mexico we have been selling significant quantities of many of these cheeses. We have created markets and we were heavily present in the market at restaurants as well as grocery stores.”