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Atlantic, Pacific Trade Talks Heating Up as Dairy Issues Stay in Spotlight

February 5, 2015

Work on two massive free trade agreements, both with major implications for U.S. dairy farmers, has intensified with the start of 2015.

Officials from 12 Pacific Rim countries met in New York during the last week in January in an attempt to finish work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the approval of which could open major new markets for U.S. dairy products in countries including Japan and Canada. NMPF Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Trade Policy Jaime Castaneda was on hand for the talks, which are moving quickly and could be concluded as early as March.

Meanwhile, a new round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is scheduled to resume in Brussels during the first week in February. One reason the Transatlantic trade agreement is important is because of European Union attempts to ban the use of feta, parmesan,  muenster and other common cheese names all around the world – including in the U.S. – unless the products are manufactured in Europe. The EU wants to use the TTIP to impose these bans, just as it has sought to do with its other trade agreements, against the strong opposition of NMPF and the U.S. dairy industry.

In Washington, the dairy industry’s concerns on the cheese names issue, known officially as geographic indications, are resonating with lawmakers. At a January 27th Senate Finance Committee hearing, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and others grilled U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on the issue. Hatch said any final TTIP agreement “must … address the systemic misuse of geographical indications to create market barriers.”

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives a day earlier, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) brought a wedge of Wisconsin cheese to a hearing to drive home the point on cheese names. “We need to address these trade barriers,” he told Froman.

Both hearings also stressed the importance of ensuring that TPP delivers meaningful export access for U.S. dairy products into key markets, a point highlighted by Chairman Ryan and Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as additional members of Congress in both hearings. TPP talks are entering a critical stage during which the U.S. dairy industry will need to ensure its demand of a balanced market access outcome is heeded.