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ABC | 13 August 2019
Europe seeking feta and scotch beef protection as Australia pushes back on prosecco claims
by Brett Worthington
Europe’s bid to stop Australian cheesemakers using the name feta has advanced but its claim on the sparkling wine prosecco is facing growing opposition amid ongoing trade talks.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has released a list with 172 foods and 236 spirits the European Union (EU) wants protected in return for a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia.
Feta is likely to cause the greatest stir within the Australia dairy sector, which wants to continue to use the name on the cheese it produces.
The list also includes EU claims on gruyere, Roquefort and gorgonzola cheeses.
Scotch beef and scotch lamb are also on the list of meats the EU wants protected but those claims rely on Britain staying in the EU, something that Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists will end on October 31.
The products all have protections within the EU under the geographical indications (GI) program, which allows farmers and producers to protect names that are based off a location, provided they can prove its significance.
"Australia doesn’t like the idea of geographical indications but this is a not-negotiable element from the European Union," Senator Birmingham told the ABC.
"We will put up a strong fight in terms of areas of Australian interests and ultimately what we’re trying to do is get the best possible deal that ensures Australian businesses and farmers can get better access to a market engaging 500 million potential consumers."
Negotiations into a free trade agreement have been underway for the past year, in what Australia hopes will allow it to send more farm exports of beef, wheat and sugar to a market worth almost $25 trillion.
The EU is Australia’s second largest trading partner and both hope a FTA will allow for closer ties.
Opposition to EU prosecco push
Some GIs restrict the sourcing of raw products to a specific region.
For others, the production must happen within a set location, which in cases like beers and some processed meats, the GI is protecting the skill of local butchers or master brewers, rather than the ingredients they use.
For prosecco, both the raw ingredients and production must come from north-east Italy.
Italian authorities and winemakers want prosecco protected under a deal with Australia.
Australia and the EU already have a wine trade agreement.
It’s under that deal that Australia stopped producing champagne, recognising Europe’s protections of the term.
Italian winemakers insist this agreement must be updated to protect prosecco in return for a FTA.
"Our view is that we negotiated over those wine terms all those years ago and there’s no need to reopen them," Senator Birmingham said.
He said the EU might seek to make changes to the wine agreement to include new protections but that would have to be considered within future trade negotiation meetings.
The EU’s Ambassador to Australia Michael Pulch confirmed Europe would continue to seek prosecco protections despite not being on the published list.
"This is one of these products we want to see protected," Dr Pulch told the ABC.
"There is indeed a discussion with the Australian side on what that means because there is prosecco production here in Australia."
Farmer cheese fairs fail to eventuate
Australian farmers were readying for a fight against fears Europe would seek to protect the names camembert, brie and pecorino.
However, the EU is not seeking protections for those terms in isolation.
The protection the EU is seeking is on the full terms Brie de Normandie, Edam Holland, Pecorino Romano and Camembert de Normandie.
Australia had been fearing the EU would want to protect prosciutto, but like with the cheeses, Europe is seeking protection only on the compound names "Prosciutto di Parma", "Prosciutto di San Daniele" and "Prosciutto Toscana".
Italian cheesemakers wanted the name parmesan protected but the EU is not seeking this. Instead, it will seek to stop Australia from using the term "Parmigiano Reggiano".
To stop a term getting protection, Europe will demand Australia prove it’s a generic term like milk or butter.
That process begins today with Senator Birmingham giving industries three months to express their views on the GIs Europe wants in Australia.
"I think many aspects of Australian industry will find this list is not as bad as they had feared," he said.
"But there are still sensitivities and we’re acutely aware of the importance of working through that.
"That’s why it’s out there for three months and I’ll certainly be spending my time speaking with cheesemakers, the dairy industry, spirit producers and other affected areas during that time."
Optimism a deal can be inked next year
Australian and EU officials have both talked about their optimism of securing a quick deal.
Despite receiving the GI list months ago, Senator Birmingham denies not releasing it has delayed the negotiation process.
European officials have told the ABC their Australian counterparts didn’t want to talk GIs in the lead-up to its federal election in May.
Some suspect that’s because the King Valley, home to half the nation’s prosecco production, sits in the independent-held marginal electorate of Indi, which the Coalition had wanted to win.
Senator Birmingham rejects that and insists a deal could be struck as soon as next year.
"To get a fully comprehensive and ambitious trade agreement was always going to take a long period time," he said.
"This isn’t just about access for agricultural goods. It covers services, investment, a whole range of different things like data and e-commerce.
"I look forward to the EU naming who the next trade commissioner from their end will be and getting on with the job with that person to hopefully conclude this agreement as quickly as we can - ideally some time next year."