Sunday, March 3, 2024

Trade deal blocks Kiwi cheeses

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Some New Zealand cheese exports to China have been put at risk in a trade deal between the European Union and China, Dairy Companies Association executive director Kimberly Crewther says.
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She accused the EU of abusing the rules for its own self-interest and economic gain rather than for legitimate intellectual property protection.

The deal stops countries like NZ exporting cheeses using names like feta because the EU considers them covered by geographic indication protection, meaning they are names that can be used only by producers in particular locations or who have a claim to the name through long association.

But the ongoing expansion of the EU’s geographic indication agenda will now prevent New Zealand dairy producers from exporting commonly produced cheeses to the high-value Chinese market, Crewther said.

NZ’s dairy exports to China were valued at more than $5bn in 2018 with cheese exports valued at over $340m.

“The EU-China Agreement is part of a rapidly growing number of trade agreements the EU has negotiated with third countries such as Japan, Mexico, Vietnam, and Singapore. 

“Through these agreements the EU is seeking to monopolise a wide range of cheese terms that are in common use globally and produced in significant quantities outside of the EU.

“Opportunities for cheeses that NZ has produced for decades and never called any other name, like parmesan, feta and gruyere, are gradually being eroded.”

The association is concerned about where the efforts to protect generic cheese names will end. 

In 2017 the EU registered danbo as a protected term despite previous acknowledgement by the Danish dairy industry it is a generic cheese name and there is significant global production outside of Europe, including in NZ.

More recently the EU registered havarti as a protected term for sole use by Denmark in the EU despite most global production being outside Denmark and the EU’s own implicit recognition of the term as generic through its standard-setting process and in trade rules under the World Trade Organisation.

“The registration of danbo and havarti as protected GIs raises serious questions about the integrity of the EU’s geographic indication registration process and framework,” Crewther said. 

The association has no objection to the EU’s protection for cheese names genuinely unique to a particular geography. But past recognition of generic names in international agreements and a significant history of production in other places as a result of shared cultural heritage should be respected as disqualifying criteria.

“The approach of protecting internationally recognised and commonly used terms demonstrates that the flawed EU geographic indication system is too often used for the EU’s own self-interest and economic gain and not for legitimate intellectual property protection,” Crewther said.

“If havarti meets the definition of a geographic indication then there are no cheese names that wouldn’t. 

“There is no certainty around where this attempt to claw back common trade cheese names will end.”

The deal with China comes amid ongoing EU-NZ free trade agreement negotiations in which the EU is seeking changes to NZ’s regulatory settings to protect 2200 terms with provision for more terms to be protected in the future.

But the association continues to register its concern the extensive list proposed by the EU could stifle local investment and innovation in cheesemaking, limit consumer choice and significantly undermine NZ’s opportunity for added-value cheese exports, she said.

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