EU, US face food labelling spat in TTIP talks

Camembert cheese. [Creative commons].

Camembert cheese. [Wikimedia]

The EU and the US are far from an agreement on food in the TTIP talks, with geographical indications still proving to be a sticking point.

Washington and Brussels are in the process of negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade agreement which will cover a number of industries and bring an estimated €74 billion to the two economies.

Food and agriculture have proven the most contentious areas in the TTIP negotiations, with opposition from civil society on both sides.

Officials from the two sides have clashed on geographical indications (GIs), which identify a foodstuff’s place of origin when it is associated with its quality.

>> Read: French concerns over geographical indications will hamper TTIP talks

Dacian Ciolo?, the European agriculture commissioner, said at a briefing with US Secretary of State for Agriculture Tom Vilsack yesterday (17 June), “We have to explain what geographical indications are and what they are not.”

The officials are set to discuss GIs further, before concrete negotiations for a trade deal can begin.

Camembert or Camembert “de Normandie”?

US legislators have become incensed by the EU stance on the GIs, fearing that producers will not be able to sell food using their traditional name, such as Camembert cheese or Parma ham.

>> Read: US Senators shocked by EU’s cheese-name claims

“We have to explain what the GI is in order to address some worries in the US on this,” Ciolo? said.

The issue has focused on when a product’s name can be termed “generic” and when it holds quality associations with its place of origin.

“We’re not saying that no one in America can sell something called camembert cheese,” Ciolo?’ spokesperson, Roger Waite, told EURACTIV. “With Canada, we reached a compromise agreement,” Waite said, referring to the EU-Canada trade deal agreed last year.

Under that trade agreement, Canadian cheesemakers are allowed to use the name parmesan, for example, but they are not permitted to use the original Italian name Parmigiano or a one citing a place name, such as Camembert de Normandie.

The Greek cheese Feta has proven to be a sticking point as the word, which derives from the Italian word Fetta, meaning “slice”, does not designate a place of origin.

“Feta is not a place, it’s a process,” Vilsack told journalists, conceding that he understood that the name of a product contained quality associations.

However, to European officials, companies cannot use Greek symbols to sell Feta if it is not produced there.

Many producers “use the good reputation of Greek cheese” in other countries, Waite said. “That is unfair on the Greek producer.” Feta has also been controversial in Europe, after the European Court of Justice ruled that it was unlawful to market Feta as Greek when it was produced in other EU countries.

The United States uses a system of trademarks, which can be bought and sold between producers, on labels. However the country does have some GIs, such as the Idaho potato or Florida Orange.

Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), started in July 2013.

If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment.

The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world. Traded goods and services are worth €2 billion.

  • End of 2014: Negotiators hope to agree a TTIP text 

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