The EU wants Australia to stop using the names 'feta,' 'scotch whisky' and 'gorgonzola'

The European Union wants...

Posted: Aug 13, 2019 7:33 AM
Updated: Aug 13, 2019 10:15 AM

The European Union wants Australian companies to stop labeling their goods as 'feta' and 'gorgonzola' — and if it gets its way, the country's food makers may have to change their product names.

On Tuesday, the Australian government released a list of 408 food and drink names that the EU wants protected in exchange for a free trade agreement (FTA).

These include popular terms like 'gruyere,' 'Irish cream,' 'scotch whisky' and 'Grappa.'

Australia began negotiating an FTA with the European Union last year, which as a bloc is already Australia's second-largest trading partner and third-largest export destination. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade believes an FTA would give the country's exporters even more of an edge in a market with more than 500 million people.

But as part of the agreement, the European Union has requested the protection of a range of what it terms 'geographical indication' names — products that are legally protected there to protect traditional, localized makers and guarantee quality. Australia already recognizes some GIs, such as Champagne.

If Australia agrees, cheese makers that have called their product 'feta,' for example, will need to change their name — perhaps to something like 'Australian feta,' according to CNN affiliate SBS News. That's because even if those manufacturers use the same processes as traditional feta cheese makers, their cheese isn't made in the geographical area that is required under EU law for it to be described as simply 'feta.'

On Tuesday, Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, opened the list up to public consultation, saying he wanted to hear directly from Australian farmers and businesses.

'Australians can be confident that we will drive a very hard bargain — as we always do — to achieve an overall agreement that delivers more opportunity for Australian farmers and businesses,' he said in a statement. 'Ultimately, we will only do this deal if overall it is in Australia's interests to do so.'

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF), an Australian national body representing farmers and agriculture, has already indicated that it is concerned about GI restrictions, saying earlier this year that limitations on the word 'feta' would have 'dire ramifications for our dairy farmers.'

Cheese is a big industry in the country: Between July 2017 and June 2018, Australia exported $945 million (US $639 million) of cheese, according to statistics from Dairy Australia, the national body for the country's dairy industry.

In an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review earlier this year, NFF president Fiona Simson said consumers at the supermarket look for product names they are familiar with, such as 'feta.' A name change requirement could mean Australian food makers lose the market they developed, she added.

'Rather than 'would you like some mozzarella on your pizza?', it will be 'would you like some firm white cheese made from buffalo or cow's milk with your tomato-topped baked dough?'' Simson wrote.

Australia and the European Union have already had four rounds of talks. A fifth and final round of negotiations is set for October.

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