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What are Geographical Indication (GI) protections and how do they stymy US agricultural exports?

GI protections, or Common Names as they are known, were established by the European Union (EU) over 20 years ago to protect geographical localities and the food and beverage names associated with specific EU country regions.

One specific EU GI protection is for Asiago cheese stemming from the Italian alpine region of the Asiago plateau. It, along with many other food and beverage products, is protected from name use by other countries exporting Asiago - particularly the US. Those bans that the EU negotiated with various other countries prevents US cheese producers from using the name Asiago in exporting to the EU and is written into its trade agreements with many other countries.


In effect, the EU prevents the US from exporting accurately labeled Asiago to all other countries who sign trade agreements with the EU. One of the more notable examples was the Korea-EU trade agreement prohibiting US Asiago cheese producers from exporting to South Korea. This is a non-tariff trade barrier of significant magnitude for American producers.


So, what can be done about it?

One major initiative is the Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports Bill, what is known as the SAVE Act. (H.R. 3423.)


It would amend the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 to define a list of common names. The lack of such a list creates an ambiguity that enables the EU and other countries to claim common names as GIs, essentially shutting American producers out of certain markets.


The SAVE Act would direct the US Secretary of Agriculture to coordinate with the US Trade Representative (USTR) to proactively negotiate with foreign trading partners to defend the use of common names.


The act is slated to be included in the next farm bill which would go a long way in protecting American food and beverage producers who have lost significant sales in global markets.


“This new emphasis on protecting common names is a much-needed step in the right direction to ensure our producers can sell their products in markets around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, Executive Director of the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN). “For years, the EU has been using illegitimate GIs to boost its own producers at the expense of others, putting a tremendous political priority on giving European companies a leg up over producers in the US and other countries.”


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