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TTIP: EU seeking special protection for over 200 food, wine and spirits names

The European Commission is seeking special protection under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement for over 200 agri-food names produced locally in the EU.

If accepted by the US, it would be the highest number secured in all EU bilateral free trade agreements.

The list of 201 food names, including the well-known Greek Feta, French Roquefort, Italian Prosciutto di Parma, and Belgian Jambon d’Ardenne, is attached as an annex to the Commission’s recently published concept paper on Geographical Indications (GIs).

The Commission proposes to establish a system providing for “an appropriate level of protection” for both the EU and the US local names, including “administrative enforcement against misuse” and “specific arrangement in case of specific GI names.”

“What is at stake is not a question of principle, but the achievement of key substantive objectives that would guarantee an appropriate protection of EU (and US) Geographical Indications,” the Commission said, listing a number of deficiencies of the US trademark system.

“Better protection of EU and US GIs will benefit producers of quality products on both sides of the Atlantic, and not least small and medium sized enterprises,” it added.

The Commission is also seeking to extend the list of bilaterally protected spirits and wines.

The concept paper includes an annex with 22 spirits names other than those covered by the EU-US 1994 Agreement, for which the EU is seeking special protection in the US. It lists such names as Italian Grappa, Polish Cherry liqueur and Hungarian Palinka.

As for wines, the EU wants to secure “the exclusive use for EU wine producers of the wine names listed in Annex II of the EU-US Wine Agreement” in the US.

The 17 wine names listed in Annex II of the 2006 EU-US Wine Agreement, including Champagne, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine, Sauterne, Sherry and Tokay, are currently used by US producers due to a grandfathering clause included in the deal, which allowed US wine already marketed under these names to continue to be sold.

“The EU considers that the 17 names covered by the provision of Article 6 of the Agreement and listed in Annex II of the Agreement are all well recognised wine names of EU origin for which the TTIP agreement must recognise exclusive protection on the U.S. territory,” the Commission said in its concept paper.

Securing automatic recognition and a high-level of protection for a shortlist of GIs in the US is one of the key offensive interests of the EU.

As the latest leak shows, the EU makes its concessions in the TTIP tariff offer generally conditional inter alia upon the US extending protections for GIs to products other than wine and spirits.

“The negotiation on Geographical Indications must result in the extension on the U.S. territory of Article 23 TRIPS protection to other foodstuffs than wines and spirits on the basis of a shortlist of EU names protected as Geographical Indications in the EU which will be directly protected through the TTIP Agreement,” the EU says in its cover note to the revised tariff offer of 15 October 2015.

Article 23 of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires WTO members to provide legal means to protect against the use of GIs for wine and spirits not originating from the region indicated, even where the true origin of the good is indicated or accompanied by expressions such as “like” or “style”.

But the US considers the European GI system highly restrictive and discriminatory. The American agri-food lobby together with certain food names organisations is putting pressure on the Office of the US Trade Representative to reject any EU proposals for an automatic recognition of GIs that include generic terms, in the US.

Due to strong disagreements, the TTIP talks on GIs have stalled, with the US refusing to acknowledge the shortcomings of its system. Instead, US officials claim that European GIs enjoy an adequate level of protection in the US. They complain at the same time that US companies encounter numerous difficulties in obtaining satisfactory protection for their trade marks in the EU.

Background

The EU system of protected names, worth €54.3 billion (2013), covers a long list of agri-food products and alcohols (around 1,100 agricultural and foodstuff GIs and some 1,561 wine PDOs/PGIs and 325 spirit GIs), such as Feta cheese or Champagne. They enjoy strong protection on the EU market and in some third countries (eg some 160 GIs enjoy special protection in South Korea under the 2011 free trade agreement).

By Joanna Sopinska