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Dairy Groups Urge U.S. to Investigate WTO Impacts of Expanded GI Protections

June 4, 2015

In the wake of a diplomatic conference that expanded geographical indications protections for European countries, NMPF joined other dairy organizations in urging the U.S. Trade Representative to evaluate the degree to which the new expansions violate World Trade Organization obligations. Among those potentially hurt by the conference are U.S. dairy producers and processors using generic cheese names.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an arm of the United Nations, held two weeks of talks in May that expanded the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin to include geographical indications.  It also expanded the protections granted under the international registry of protected terms.

NMPF, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the International Dairy Foods Association praised the U.S. representatives at the meeting for leading the effort to battle against changes that will seriously impair the ability of companies worldwide to use generic food terms in export markets. Among those affected are U.S. dairy producers and processors relying on numerous generic cheese names.

The three groups also praised U.S. diplomats for leading a coalition of countries in criticizing the lack of an inclusive process during the two-week meeting. In a departure from multiple precedents, WIPO let Lisbon Agreement members deny meaningful participation to the majority of WIPO members.

“The treaty changes were clearly aimed at preventing competitors such as dairy producers and processors in the United States and other non-European countries from using names in international trade that they have used for decades,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “We appreciate the work the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, along with the departments of State and Agriculture, have devoted to this issue and look forward to their view on whether the impacts that will result from this treaty violate international trade agreements.”

USDEC President Tom Suber added, “WIPO’s decision to force non-Lisbon members into second-class status at this conference strips the outcome of its legitimacy. It’s equally clear that there are serious WTO consistency problems with the approach Lisbon members decided to pursue and we ask USTR to carefully examine how to address these trade commitment violations.”