Say cheese: EU looks to claim “feta” for its own

The Australian Government is currently negotiating a potential free trade agreement with the European Union (EU).  This deal will allow Australian businesses improved access to 500 million potential consumers, and a market worth approximately $25 trillion.

However, in return, the EU has requested that Australia protect (as registered Geographical Indications) (GI) a list of products produced and sold by EU member nations.

The new GIs include popular items such as “feta”, “gorgonzola” and (of course) “prosecco”.

If accepted, these new GIs could adversely impact Australian producers and distributers, who manufacture products under these names. 

What is a GI?

A GI is a distinctive sign used to identify a product whose quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographical origin.

GIs protect:

  • agricultural products and foodstuffs;
  • spirit drinks;
  • wines; and
  • aromatised wines.

Once registered, a GI prevents businesses from using that GI unless specific criteria are met.  For example, a producer of sparkling wine cannot use the GI “Champagne” on its labelling, unless the sparkling wine was produced in the French region of Champagne.

Not only does the GI protect legitimate Champagne producers, it also protects the consumer, by providing a guarantee of origin (and quality).  

What do these GI protections look like?

The EU is demanding that Australia register (and protect) the following GIs:

  • Camembert de Normandie;
  • Gorgonzola;
  • Gouda Holland;
  • Mozzarella di Bufala Campana;
  • Φέτα (transcription into Latin alphabet: Feta);
  • Prosciutto di Parma; and
  • Scotch Beef.

Critically, the EU is not seeking protection of the underlined portions of these names (when used alone).  For example, use of the word “Prosciutto” by itself will not contravene the proposed GI.

The EU also seeks protection of the sparkling wine variety “Prosecco”. Given its recent surge in popularity, Australian wine producers are reluctant to give up use of the term “Prosecco”, which has proved a sticking point in negotiations between Australia and the EU.

While the EU has clarified that it is not seeking to extend GI protections to spirits such as “whisky” and “vodka”, some of the names that the EU wants to protect include:

  • Cognac;
  • Estonian vodka;
  • Eau-de-vie de Cognac;
  • Fine Bordeaux;
  • Grappa;
  • Irish Whiskey / Uisce Beatha Eireannach / Irish Whisky;
  • Ouzo/Oύζο (transcription into Latin alphabet: Ouzo);
  • Somerset Cider Brandy;
  • Scotch Whisky; and
  • Berliner Kümmel.

Lavan comment

If the new GIs are registered in Australia, Australian producers and distributors must consider whether their current products are properly described (and labelled).  This might require producers to discontinue using popular and highly regarded names (such as feta and prosecco).  It will require thought to be given to rebranding, which will inevitably require consideration of new trade marks and marketing campaigns to re-establish market presence for otherwise well known Australian products.  It will require organisation well before any ban on the use of existing names comes into effect.

Should you have any queries or concerns in relation to how the proposed Fair Trade Agreement may impact your business, please do not hesitate to contact Iain Freeman or Andrew Sutton.