January 3, 2018
Japan rejects EU list of GIs under trade deal
The European Union won't have exclusive use of geographical indications (GIs) covering cheeses and meats that it has proposed to Japan under a free trade agreement under negotiations.
The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) said the Japanese government has assured the continued general use for many generic cheese terms such as "parmesan" and "romano".
Also assured continued common use are the generic cheese names brie, camembert, cheddar, edam, emmental, gouda, grana, mozzarella, pecorino and provolone.
For the meats, bologna, bratwurst and mortadella can be used by countries outside of the EU.
"Japan took the right steps in preserving the vast majority of terms that were of concern to CCFN members worldwide, and in doing so helped maintain the choices and fair competition that will benefit Japanese consumers", said CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda.
"Now we are urging continued consistency and fairness as they establish the finer points of the agreement, so that names that are clearly generic in the marketplace will remain accessible to everyone", he added.
CCFN said Japan will provide a transition period of seven years for prior users of certain terms including cheese names asiago, feta, fontina and gorgonzola. After the transition period, the EU could have sole rights to these names, but some of the details of this temporary "grandfathering" have yet to be spelled out.
"Japan can be viewed as a leader on this important issue if it follows its own law and allows for the cancellation of GIs over the course of the seven-year grace period that follows implementation of the trade agreement," Castaneda said.
"We also expect Japan to ensure that all companies that make use of the targeted terms in Japan prior to implementation are able to retain their rights to that grace period".
CCFN is also seeking clarification on whether certain common meat terms that are part of compound GIs, such as "salami" and "prosciutto," will remain generic.
CCFN maintains that granting sole rights to the EU to use these generic names on products in the Japanese marketplace will harm Japanese consumers, producers and retailers, as well as relationships with key trading partners.
"The EU's goal is simple: to benefit its own producers by improperly extending GIs to unfairly restrict competition", said Castaneda.
"This decision by Japan shows that governments are catching on to - and rejecting - this scheme as harmful to their nations' own interests".
Castaneda stressed that when only one set of producers is allowed to use a generic name for a product, the result is less competition, higher prices and less consumer choice.
CCFN conceded that the EU should only be permitted to protect legitimate specialty names used in full - usually compound names that contain a geographic region, such as "Mortadella Bologna," "Prosciutto Toscano," "Mozzarella di Bufala Campana" and "Gouda Holland."
Late last year, the US dairy industry cautioned Japan against favoring the EU when reviewing a list of GIs proposed by the EU, or else risk disrupting one of the world's largest consumer marketplaces.
Leaders from the US National Milk Producers Federation, the US Dairy Export Council and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) then wrote a letter to the Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, saying it was imperative that Japan "not overlook the enormous significance of the EU food name list for Japanese consumers and producers, and for your lasting relationships with key international trading partners".
In 2016, American dairy companies shipped $117 million worth of cheese products to Japan, which is the third-largest market for US cheeses, according to IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes. --Rick Alberto