On CETA and feta

EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

A double exposure of the Wallon region cock fight flag and Paul Magnette, Minister-President of the French-speaking region of Wallonia giving a speech on the latest developments on CETA during a plennary session of the Wallon region parliament in Namur, Belgium, 28 October 2016.

No cheese, no glory


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The only real consequence of the Walloon rebellion against CETA, a landmark EU trade deal with Canada, was a postponed summit. On October 28, the parliament of Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia finally voted in favour of the agreement – 58 lawmakers voted for and 5 against.

The vote followed an intra-Belgian agreement that was achieved on October 27. This was finalised after back-to-back meetings of Belgium’s Conciliation Committee. The Belgian parliaments had their go on the text that all Belgian sides and regions had put together.

Their deadline to ratify the agreed declaration was set for midnight on October 28. Belgium’s Federal Parliament, the Federation Wallonia-Brussels Parliament, as well as the Dutch-speaking Flanders Parliament, and last but not least, the French-speaking Wallonia regional Parliament, all had to validate the agreement.

Minister President of Wallonia, Paul Magnette, who was leading the opposition against CETΑ, has come out to support the deal. He said: “The amended and corrected CETA is more just than the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend.”

“An agreement was reached in the conciliation committee, which was charged with finding a common position at the federal and federated entities on CETA,” announced Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel on October 27. “The text of the agreement was sent directly to the Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU.”

Indeed, the text was put before the EU Council on October 27.  Ambassadors had reviewed a draft during an extraordinary COREPER II meeting earlier the same day. They approved the declaration package that headed to the European Council, after Belgium’s Federal government finalised their position.

While Belgians discussed the latest developments unfolding after several days of meetings, the European Commission was also preparing a declaration in respect to the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs), on the precautionary principle in CETA and in respect of the content of the legal bases.

According to the text, which was seen by New Europe on the day this article was published, the European Commission will maintain close contact with member states that have special interests on GIs and “will welcome ad hoc requests for further consultations”.

According to one EU official, the level of protection secured by the EU for GIs under CETA is “an unprecedented success given the original rejection by Canada of the very notion of GIs”.

But what will it mean in reality for many key GIs in the cases of EU member states that are already used as generic names on the other side of the Atlantic – such as the Greek feta cheese?

For them, “grandfather rights” will apply, dividing cheese makers between those who are already in the market and those who are new.

For the already-existing uses in the Canadian market, an unequivocal identification of its origin (“Made in Canada”) will now be imposed in order to protect EU products and producers by clearly distinguishing them from the ones produced locally.

As for the new entrants to the Canadian market, they will only be able to sell their product if these five names (five cheeses of particular importance: Asiago, Gorgonzola, Feta, Fontina, and Munster) are accompanied by qualifiers, such as “style”, “type” “kind”, or “imitation” to the GI name. This means consumers can expect to see many “feta style” brands to hit the Canadian supermarket shelves when this agreement is enforced.

However, the EU rules that cover GIs in the Single Market will then apply to Canada, not allowing cheese makers to produce feta from cow and bison milk. Similarly, Canadian wineries will not be able to flood the market with ‘fake’ champagne.

Member states’ flags, lettering, city and benchmark names will also not be allowed on the Canadian imitation products, according to one EU official who suggested that consumers and producers will be protected from such tactics.

In the case of feta, the Canadian producer will only be allowed a label that says “feta style” with no reference to Greece.

“This makes it relatively easy for the consumer to distinguish the product and for sellers of genuine Greek products to make a clear distinction in the market,” explained one EU official.

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