The European Union's plan to prevent U.S. companies from using terms like "parmesan" and "feta" to describe cheese variations are hampering the U.S. dairy industry and should be addressed by the Obama administration during transatlantic trade talks, a group of 177 Congress members said Thursday.
Led by Reps. Reid Ribble and Peter Welch, the Congress members outlined their requests – including a complaint about dairy tariffs – in a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week.
At issue are EU efforts to restrict the use of many common food names – such as parmesan and potentially havarti – using geographical indication regulations.
"The EU is taking a mechanism that was created to protect consumers against misleading information and instead using it to carve out exclusive market access for its own producers," they wrote. "This type of barrier to trade and commerce defies the fundamental goals of a trade agreement, and we urge you to work aggressively against the EU's efforts …."
The EU's efforts expand into other nations, using free trade agreements to forge settlements with trading partners to impose restrictions on common food names.
For example, the Consortium for Common Food Names said, Canada agreed as part of its recently concluded FTA with the EU to impose new restrictions on the use of "feta" and other common cheese names. The EU has instigated similar trade barriers throughout Latin America.
"We need to remind Europe that they do not own 'parmesan' and 'feta'," said CCFN Executive Director Jaime Castaneda in a statement.
"When food producers are unable to use common food names in either domestic or international trade, it severely hampers their ability to compete in established markets," the CCFN statement said. "These actions also confuse consumers by removing available products from the market and suggesting that there is only one place to get a given product, when in reality many choices exist."
The House members noted also that EU dairy tariffs, which they say average roughly three times the level of U.S. dairy tariffs, have contributed to the $1.3 billion trade deficit for U.S. dairy products.
"While the EU enjoys a country-specific tariff rate quota for dairy access into the U.S. market, the U.S. has no such similar preferential access to EU countries," Congress members wrote. "Furthermore, while U.S. certification requirements for the vast majority of EU dairy products are relatively nominal, EU certificate requirements for dairy products are more extensive, impeding U.S. access into the EU market."