Since 1941, the famous Utah cheese company, Gossner’s, has been making high-quality food products using locally sourced ingredients from the farms of Cache Valley, Box Elder County and other neighboring communities. The European Union’s agenda in international trade negotiations threatens the future of family-owned businesses like Gossner Foods and others in Utah and around the country.
A significant aspect of Europe’s farm and trade policy agenda is focused on using geographical indications to grant European food producers unfair advantages over their competitors outside of the EU. With geographical indications, the EU is working to restrict countries and businesses from using words or names associated with these regions. If European trade negotiators and industry officials have their way, many different common food and beverage names will be eliminated from Utah grocery store shelves. For example, Utah companies like Gossner’s would have to come up with new names for popular cheeses such as Provolone and Muenster.
The EU has been successful in implementing protections for its geographical indications in many different international trade negotiations. Most recently, a draft trade agreement between the EU and Mexico includes such protections. Mexico has indicated a willingness to grant the U.S. exemption from the restrictions as part of the NAFTA negotiations, but the future of NAFTA is far from certain.
If the EU accomplishes its geographical indications goals, food producers impacted by them will have to go through a costly rebranding effort, losing money and time to their European counterparts. Meanwhile, many consumers in the U.S. will choose imported cheeses from the EU with names they recognize over U.S. products with names they don’t recognize.
The dairy products industry in Utah employs more than 9,000 skilled individuals, generates more than $398 million in direct wages and has an overall economic impact of over $7 billion. Utah and U.S. dairy depends on a vibrant, competitive international market as well as robust domestic market in order to balance out supply and demand. If the EU continues to be successful in its efforts to unfairly shut out its global competition, multiple studies have shown that numerous small and medium-sized farms and food producers in Utah and across the country would be forced out of business. This would eliminate thousands of rural jobs and hurt the economy, both within Utah and nationwide.
The EU has recently railed against protectionist trade policies stemming from the U.S., but its geographical indications are no different — and in some respects they are worse. Geographical indications are blatant protectionism hidden under the guise of trademarks and intellectual property.
The future of small and medium-sized food producers here in Utah and across the country depends on free and fair trade. The U.S. should fight against the EU’s attempt to push its geographical indications protections around the globe by resisting efforts to expand the mandate for this type of protection at the World Trade Organization. Furthermore, U.S. negotiators should secure open markets for generically branded products within regional and bilateral trade agreements starting with NAFTA. Finally, no trade agreement should be ratified by the Senate if it does not include free and fair trade for generically branded products.
Andy Pierucci is the director of the Marketing, Communications & Economic Development Division at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.