WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) announced a bipartisan effort in the Senate to protect dairy farmers and producers in Maryland and across the nation from an effort by the European Union to restrict their access to global dairy markets through the restriction of common food names.
In a bipartisan letter signed by more than 50 of their Senate colleagues, Senators Cardin and urged Mikulski the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to fight European Union (EU) attempts to heavily restrict the use of common cheese names used by the majority of producers across the nation. The EU claims that dairy products baring names such as asiago, feta, parmesan, and muenster are “geographical indicators” and can only be appropriately displayed on products made in certain areas of Europe, regardless of their widespread use as generic labeling. This new regulation would hurt Maryland farmers who rely on these labels to sell products to consumers in a wide variety of international markets.
“There is no industry more important in Maryland than agriculture. We have to do whatever we can to preserve a level playing field for our farmers in the international marketplace,” said Senator Cardin. “It is important for our economy and our local communities that farming in Maryland remains viable for generations to come.”
“Maryland’s number one industry is agriculture,” said Senator Mikulski. “Farming has been a way of life for generations in Maryland, creating jobs in our local communities and providing food for our families. I’m so proud to fight for the thousands of Marylanders that work each and every day to support Maryland’s economic future and to keep our nation healthy.”
The effort to fight these unfair restrictions would protect more than 12,800 Maryland farms and more than 350,000 Marylanders who rely on fair access to food and dairy markets to sell their products. Furthermore, it would protect over 500 Maryland dairy farms from having their ability to sell their products hampered by unfair regulations put on their product names.
The letter continues Senator Cardin and Mikulski’s commitment to Maryland farmers following her support of the Agriculture Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), which helps protect Maryland agriculture—the state’s largest commercial industry.
The Senators efforts are supported by the National Milk Producers Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, International Dairy Foods Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Kraft, Leprino Foods and others.
The full text of the letter can be seen below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Froman:
We commend your past work to fight the growing geographical indication (GI) restrictions promoted by the European Union (EU). This trade barrier is of great concern to dairy and other food manufacturers in our states. On their behalf, we urge you to continue to push back against the EU’s efforts to restrict our cheese exports, particularly to nations with which we already have free trade agreements. In addition, we urge you to make clear to your EU counterparts that the U.S. will reject any proposal in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations now underway that would restrict in any way the ability of US producers to use common cheese names.
In country after country, the EU has been using its free trade agreements (FTAs) to persuade its trading partners to impose barriers to U.S. exports under the guise of protection for its geographical indications. This trade-damaging practice is concerning anywhere, but it is most deeply troubling where the U.S. has an established FTA or has been actively in the process of negotiating a new agreement. For example, Canada agreed as part of its recently concluded FTA with the EU to impose new restrictions on the use of “feta” and other common cheese names. Common names for products such as “feta” are clearly generic in Canada, as they are in many other countries. These restrictions not only threaten harm to the companies currently involved in the Canadian market, but they would also impair market access for U.S. dairy products that we are now attempting to secure under ongoing trade negotiations. Similar trade barriers are cropping up throughout Latin America as well and are under discussion in many Asian countries involved in negotiations with the EU.
Reportedly, the EU now seeks to more directly impair U.S. competition by imposing restrictions on the use of common food names through TTIP. In the states that we represent, many small or medium-sized family owned farms and firms could have their business unfairly restricted by the EU’s push to use geographical indications as a barrier to dairy trade and competition. As we begin to engage in TTIP negotiations that are ultimately intended to bring about a better economic climate on both sides of the Atlantic by lowering barriers to trade, we strongly oppose the EU’s gratuitous use of GIs as a protectionist measure.
We ask that USTR and USDA continue to work aggressively to ensure the EU’s GI efforts on commonly used cheese names do not impair U.S. businesses’ ability to compete domestically or internationally and that you make this a top priority through both official TTIP and bilateral negotiations.