Committee Holds Hearing to Review Geographical Indications and the Potential Effects of Proposals by Countries in the WTO

Jul 22, 2003

Washington, DC- The House Agriculture Committee today held a hearing to review the issue of geographical indications and the potential effect of proposals by countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agricultural negotiations on United States agriculture and food exports.

Geographical indications are a means by which producers of a product, including an agricultural product, can identify such a product as originating from a particular region and a product’s quality or characteristic is attributed to that region. Many countries, including the United States, offer protection for geographical indications. However, proposals before the WTO, in the agricultural negotiations, could have the result of altering current systems of protection, to the disadvantage of U.S. producers.

“This is a very important matter, especially in light of the EU’s various proposals for geographical indications in the context of the WTO negotiations,” Chairman Goodlatte said. “The EU wants to set up a system of lists of names of products that cannot be used by outsiders---as opposed to a system of rules that protect producers and manufacturers of such products. Some of these generic terms could include parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, edam cheese and salami. Some would consider this all to be just bologna (baloney) ---but that too is one of the generic terms that the EU may want to claim for its own exclusive use. If these efforts are successful they will severely impact our domestic producers and consumers while simultaneously undermining valuable intellectual property rights,” Goodlatte concluded.

Ranking Member Stenholm said, “It is very important for the U.S. agricultural community to fully understand the implications of Europe’s attempts to enhance protections for geographical indications. It is equally important for Europe to understand that we do not intend to allow the issue to distract us from the real work of the WTO agriculture negotiation—export competition, domestic support, and market access.”

The hearing consisted of two panels with the first featuring Mr. Jon W. Dudas, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In his remarks before the Committee , Deputy Under Secretary Dudas said, “Quite simply, the United States may be facing demands to give away our WTO entitlements for nothing…We are particularly concerned because U.S. GI (geographical indications) owners appear to face systematic discrimination in the EU. Significantly, not one U.S. geographical indication is currently protected in the EU under the EU’s Agriculture Regulation.”

The second panel included Mr. Patrick J. Kole, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs, Idaho Potato Commission, Mr. Thomas M. Suber, President, U.S. Dairy Export Council, Ms. Sarah F. Thorn, Director of International Trade, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Mr. Michael P. Pellegrino, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, Kraft Cheese Division, Kraft Foods North America, and Mr. James B. Clawson, on behalf of the Wine Institute, Mr. Frank Z. Hellwig, Senior Associate General Counsel, Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.

In his testimony before the Committee, Mr. Pellegrino with Kraft Cheese commented, “Under the EU proposal, WTO rules would supercede national rules, and the right to market these products would be reserved to producers in Parma, Italy (for “parmesan” cheese); Greece (for “feta” cheese); and Dijon, France (for “dijon” mustard). Kraft is very concerned that it would be prohibited from using terms that are integral to the identity of brands we have been building for decades…We regard the threat to our businesses, and to those of other U.S. and other non-EU food processors and producers, as real, substantial, and immediate.”

Currently the United States provides protection for geographical indications through our trademark system, a rules-based method that is open and includes fair treatment and enforcement mechanisms.

Chairman Goodlatte and ranking member Stenholm will lead a delegation of Agriculture Committee Members to the WTO 5th Ministerial meetings in Cancun.


A photo from the hearing of the some of the American products which would be adversely affected by proposals before the WTO, in the agriculture negotiations.