USTR Is Applauded For Calling Out GI Abuse
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) last Friday released its annual Special 301 Report on the adequacy and effectiveness of U.S. trading partners’ protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. Among issues noted in the report was the European Union’s (EU’s) policy of blocking competition through the pursuit of geographical indications (GI) restricting the use of common food and beverage terms, including those on many cheeses.
“Intellectual property rights incentivize our creators, manufacturers and innovators to invent new products and technologies,” says U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. “The laws, policies and practices that protect those rights must appropriately balance the interests of creators with those seeking to use their creations.”
The report notes concerns persist with the EU’s aggressive promotion of its exclusionary GI policies. The United States continues its intensive engagement in promoting and protecting access to foreign markets for U.S. exporters of products that are identified by common names or otherwise marketed under previously registered trademarks.
“As part of its agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent all producers, other than in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago or feta. This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for product produced in countries around the world,” the report states.
The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) commended Tai and the USTR office staff, as well as USDA and other administration partners, for reaffirming the U.S. government’s commitment to tackling EU misuse of legitimate GI protections in the Special 301 Report.
“USTR has accurately diagnosed the problem. Now the task before the U.S. is to take the necessary steps to effectively curb this scourge to U.S. food and agricultural producers,” says Jaime Castaneda, executive director, CCFN. “The EU’s GI policy is intentionally barring competition from a host of other suppliers that all simply seek a level playing field including small and medium-sized family-owned companies, farmer-owned cooperatives, producers in developing countries and other actors throughout the supply chain that bear the brunt of these harmful restrictions. The U.S. must build on past advances to pursue a more proactive and effective path to combating the misuse of GIs by establishing concrete market access protections for the use of widely used terms.”
CCFN filed extensive comments with USTR outlining GI-related developments, foreign governments’ roles in driving those policies and the impacts on U.S. farmers and food producers. NMPF and USDEC also submitted comments supporting CCFN’s global overview and the need for a more robust U.S. trade policy approach to tackling GI abuses.
“U.S. dairy farmers and processors are counting on the U.S. government to have their back and defend their rights to cultivate opportunities around the world,” says Krysta Harden, president and CEO, USDEC. “Our industry produces great products here at home and then works hard to market them overseas. To be as successful as possible, however, they count on strong U.S. government support to head off and combat unfair trade barriers such as geographical indications that ban the use of generic cheese terms. We want to partner with USTR to help bring the right policy tools to bear to make headway on this thorny issue.”
Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, NMPF, notes that last year, more than 170 members of Congress urged an expansion of the trade toolkit the United States deploys to deal with GIs that block the use of common food names.
“It’s time to put that into practice and secure affirmative protections for the key common terms on which U.S. cheesemakers and other food producers rely,” he says. “We look forward to working more closely with USTR to achieve those gains to keep doors around the world open to made-in-America products.”
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) also says it is pleased with the Special 301 Report and USTR’s strong acknowledgement of the EU’s abuse of legitimate intellectual property rights through its GI policies.
“In particular we appreciate and agree with USTR’s recognition that the EU’s GI policies are inconsistent with World Trade Organization obligations under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and that even European countries fail to abide by the EU’s GI policies by continuing to export protected cheeses from non-origin countries,” says Becky Rasdall, vice president for trade policy and international affairs, IDFA.
USTR reviewed more than 100 trading partners for this year’s Special 301 Report and continued its enhanced approach to public engagement activities in this year’s process. USTR requested written submissions from the public through a notice published in the Dec. 15, 2020, Federal Register, and the notice drew submissions from 50 non-government stakeholders and 22 foreign governments. The submissions filed in response to the Federal Register notice are available to the public online at www.regulations.gov, docket number USTR-2020-0041. The 2021 Special 301 Report is available at ustr.gov.
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Source: Cheese Market News