U.S. Senators Urge Trump Administration to Protect Use of Cheese Names in NAFTA
On May 14, 2018, two dozen U.S. senators urged the Trump administration to protect the use of common cheese names in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Spearheaded by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the senators implored the administration to make sure that any new NAFTA deal is not hindered by rules of the EU-Mexico agreement that give EU producers exclusive rights to market certain cheeses under geographic names.
As background to this issue, in April 2018, the European Union (EU) and Mexico announced they reached an agreement to update their 18-year-old bilateral trade agreement. The new deal would remove duties for all agricultural goods, offer protections for some EU cheese names, and create Mexican tariff-rate quotas for EU milk powder and cheese. The agreement would give new market access to the EU by introducing tariff-rate quotas for EU cheese exports to Mexico. During a five-year period, Mexico would gradually raise a quota of 20,000 tons for mature cheeses and 5,000 tons for fresh cheeses.
The U.S. and EU have long battled over geographical indications (GIs) for products and was one of the core issues that prevented talks for the Obama-era Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership from progressing. The GIs pursued by the EU are commonly sold in the U.S., such as parmesan, which the EU believes must refer only to a cheese from the Parma region of Italy. However, such a rule would be in conflict with Mexico’s NAFTA commitments. According to the senators, “[i]f Mexico grants European cheese producers exclusive rights to use common cheese names, as reports indicate it has agreed to do, American producers will lose market share they have spent years developing.”