Brussels – Protect “the common names” of food products from the abuse of geographical indications made by the European Union. This is the request that the US Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) has made to the US government “to preserve the rights of users of common names of foods and beverages” from the EU monopoly. For Filiera Italia, the association that brings together the Italian world of agriculture and its agri-food industry, it is above all “a reaction to the extraordinary success of Made in Italy”, which last year registered record exports to the USA “with 5.5 billion Euro of agri-food business and a constant growth of 14%”, explains managing director Luigi Scordamaglia in an interview with Eunews.
Eunews: Where does this request come from and what does this consortium represent?
Scordamaglia: “The consortium was fairly unknown before the arrival of Trump and during the Trumpian policy of America First it was heavily launched. In our opinion, the request represents a reaction to the extraordinary success of Made in Italy: last year we made record exports to the United States with 5.5 billion Euro of agri-food products, with a constant growth of 14 percent. It is the country where (exports) continue to grow more consistently and more systematically, but where one product out of five is real, the others are instead Italian sounding (i.e. the use of references evocative of Italy to promote and market especially agri-food products), so there is a consolidated tradition of using denominations. This consortium has already tried in Chile and other South American countries to register a whole series of Italian products such as Asiago and Mortadella”.
E.: What now?
S.: “Now the paradox has been reached because it asks the US government to exercise in international relations all possible influence against the aggressiveness of the protection of geographical indications of common names, which in reality are not common names. Failure to defend names such as ‘Parmigiano’ without ‘Reggiano’ rather than other products has led to significant damage and is a limiting factor in some otherwise successful commercial agreements, such as those with Canada and Japan. It is a paradoxical attack on everything that is distinctiveness, links to the territory and everything that characterises our exports”.
E.: Realistically, is there any possibility that Joe Biden’s current US administration will approve such a request?
S.: “The hope is that Biden will take it less into account than Trump, even if it is difficult to evaluate. Obama, who by no means had the same positions as Trump, in terms of appeals to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and disputes to protect American production, was one of the most active. Therefore, the belonging to a political sphere is not enough to cause certainty. However, we hope that the particular report relaunched by Biden will help silence these matters”.
E.: What does Italian data on geographical indication exports tell us?
S.: “The economic value of geographical indication products in Italy reached 16.9 billion Euro in 2020 (+4.2% in one year) with an incidence of 8.5% on the almost 200 billion Euro of agri-food sales volume (143 food industry + 57 primary). The 2020 exports of the segment amounted to 9.5 billion Euro (+5.1% in one year) which corresponds to 21.6% of agri-food exports (44.5 billion Euro). The expansionary dynamics of the segment and its strong export projection should be emphasised, with an internal export/turnover incidence that exceeds 56%, more than double the 25.4% of the export/turnover ratio of the food industry. At the end of 2019, Italy maintained the world record in this segment with 824 DCO, DCGO, IGT, PDO, PGI, TSG products: over one in four products registered as PDO, PGI and TSG in the world is Italian and those related to the pyramid of wine alone exceed 500. It is significant that certified wines (main driver and forerunner over the years of all national food exports) cover 85% of the sector’s exports”.
E.: What are the risks if the Biden administration were to adopt a more uncompromising approach?
S.: “The risk is losing an important part of the growing export revenue, which however shows less growth compared to Italian sounding. In the United States we have this paradoxical situation of one product out of five and it is evident that if these concepts are permissible, the American consumer will find it hard to understand that Parmesan is not Parmigiano Reggiano and Asiago is not Italian Asiago. We seriously risk a setback on the only thing going strong, exports, also in relation to a reduced competitiveness of Italian production due to the energy and raw materials gaps. Obviously, who should be indignant and who should take a firm position is the European Commission”.
E.: Why isn’t it talked about much in Europe?
S.: “I see a European Commission too distracted regarding these issues, in general my impression is that there is a prevailing Northern European vision that, regardless of economic interests, fails culturally to understand the importance of factors such as indication and designation of origin. There is just a short-sighted view on the part of the European executive that does not understand how much the exaltation of origin, distinctiveness and tradition is in the interest of European consumers”.
E.: Instead what is the prevailing approach?
S.: “There is an attempt to standardise diets towards foods that are increasingly the same globally, more synthetic. It is a single action towards which the Commission seems to have a cross-eyed, rather than myopic vision: on the one hand it invests in PGI and PDO, on the other it seems to marry systems (of nutritional labelling, ed) such as Nutri-score which damages them. Again, on the one hand it favours synthetic foods and on the other it is too tolerant regarding the issue of geographical indications”.
E.: Also in Brussels a debate is underway on how to change the current rules on geographical indication and the EU Commission seems willing to shift the approach from the geographical link to the territory towards a more dedicated approach to the brand. What do you think?
S.: “With the revision we risk playing the Americans’ game, they are completely different forms of protection: the rules of trademark protection are transversal rules and do not take into account the complexity and distinctiveness of food products that must continue to be linked to the territory. It is (an approach) also out of time, because if until now, the brand gave you guarantees of success on a global level, today a brand not linked to its supply chain, to its value chain and to its own territories, cannot compete on a global level”.
E.: In what way should the EU act against the Consortium’s requests?
S.: “First of all, protecting PDO and PGI and not changing policies from territories to brands and taking a position with the United States, making Biden understand that Europe cannot be remembered only when it comes to gas and Russia”.