U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have written a March 11, 2014, letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), urging the agencies to reject the European Union’s (EU’s) request that product names such as feta, parmesan and muenster be reserved as “geographical indicators.” As part of ongoing Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, the EU has reportedly claimed that common cheese names “can only be appropriately displayed on products made in certain areas of Europe.” To this end, it has apparently used free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries to restrict U.S. exports “under the guise of protection for its geographical indicators.”

But the U.S. dairy industry has vociferously criticized the proposal, noting that names like cheddar and provolone are familiar to consumers and widely accepted on the global market. Signed by more than 50 senators, the letter asks USTR and USDA “to push back against the EU’s efforts to restrict our cheese exports, particularly to nations with which we already have free trade agreements.” It also contends that the United States will reject any TTIP proposal that “would restrict in any way the ability of U.S. producers to use common cheese names.”

“This trade-damaging practice is concerning anywhere, but it is most deeply troubling where the U.S. has an stablished FTA or has been actively in the process of negotiating a new agreement,” concludes the letter. “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…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.”