On Thursday, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) released the summary of specific negotiating objectives for a trade deal between the UK and US. Among the USTR’s goals are to increase market access in the UK for US agricultural products, and ensure that “geographical indications” (GIs) do not undermine market access for US products in the UK market. In its 2018 Special 301 Report, the USTR voiced concern that the EU’s protections of GIs for commonly used product names are a contributing factor to the US trade deficit in food and agricultural trade with the EU.
The European Union and its members, including the UK, currently provide protections for a variety of largely agricultural products such as spirits, wines, cheeses, baked goods, spices, oils, fruits, vegetables, furs, meats, and beers as GIs. These protections represent a fundamental disagreement between the US and our European trading partners regarding consumer expectations. While the EU and its member states interpret some names of products, e.g. feta, as indicating a place of origin, the US perceives the terms as generic and thus allows producers outside of a particular geographic region to use the terms to describe their products. The EU and its member states have also provided for a large number of geographical indication protections in their recent trade deals and negotiations with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, and China.
While claims of geographic origin are commonly protected by trademark, certification marks, or collective marks, the protection of generic terms by geographical indications could undermine trademark protections and limit American producers in foreign markets. In the markets of trading partners that have agreed to protect European GIs and within the EU itself, American imports are hindered and products must don terms such as “imitation feta.” The renaming of goods to conform with European protections can be costly and reduce consumer demand.