Thursday, May 19, 2022

EU seeks product rights in trade talks

New Zealand has agreed to look at extending any exclusive use of food and drink names it agrees in trade talks with the European Union to British producers.

In its negotiations with NZ, the EU initially proposed exclusive use for its own producers of the names of 2200 food and drink products it claims are uniquely linked to European places.

New Zealand has agreed to look at extending any exclusive use of food and drink names it agrees in trade talks with the European Union to British producers.

So-called Geographic Indications (GIs) are a form of intellectual property rights for products and methods of production uniquely linked to specific place names and are a key demand for the EU in all of its trade negotiations.

In its negotiations with NZ, the EU initially proposed exclusive use for its own producers of the names of 2200 food and drink products it claims are uniquely linked to European places.

The NZ dairy industry staunchly opposes the EU’s grab for names such as feta and parmesan on the basis that they are commonly-used terms and are not the exclusive property of any one party.

The industry fears significant losses were it forced to give up or significantly modify names of products it has invested many millions of dollars on brands, packaging and processing assets supporting.

Those losses would be amplified if NZ agreed to EU demands for its exporters to cease using GIs linked to European place names in overseas markets.

Appearing recently before Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee, the Government’s chief negotiator in the UK talks Brad Burgess told MPs that while there would be no immediate restrictions on the use of product names linked to British locations by NZ dairy companies, a review clause had been included in the agreement.

“There are no upfront commitments to implement a GIs regime or to protect UK GIs,” Burgess said.

“However, in the future if NZ enters into a trade agreement such as with the EU that includes GI protections then that would trigger a review process under the UK FTA, which would consider whether that protection would also be extended to UK GIs.”

Furthermore, if NZ and the EU had still not concluded a trade agreement two years after the UK-NZ FTA came into force, then the possibility of GI protections for British product names would be reviewed separately, Burgess said.

Dairy Companies Association (DCANZ) executive director Kimberly Crewther said the free use of European GIs in the British market was already restricted for NZ exporters as a result of existing trade agreements between the UK and the EU.

She said EU negotiators submitted British cheese names such as Stilton in its list of GIs in its trade talks with NZ while the UK was still part of the EU.

DCANZ objected to the EU’s inclusion of Stilton’s on its list of GI demands at the time and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was another reason why the EU should not be demanding exclusive use of the name in the NZ market.

“The EU-NZ talks on GIs started pre-Brexit so we started negotiating under that [list] and we objected under that,” Crewther said.

Crewther said the EU’s demands for GI protections had become more expansive as time went by.

The potential for damage to the NZ industry would be many times greater if NZ agreed EU or UK producers should be given special rights over common words used to describe NZ locations in describing their own products, for example.

Would either the EU or the UK be able to claim exclusive use of the words “West Coast” as a close imitation of words used to describe its own “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar”, for example, Crewther asked.

“Would there, if there was at any point a West Coast Cheddar … would that be too close and therefore deemed an imitation of West Country Cheddar even though producers in both those regions in both those countries would very legitimately use that terminology.” Crewther said.

“With any GIs regime that is agreed there is the potential for things like that to come up.”

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