House GSP Bill Supports Fair Market Access for U.S. Dairy Farmers

The National Milk Producers Federation, U.S. Dairy Export Council and Consortium for Common Food Names commended today’s House Ways and Means Committee markup of a bill that would renew the Generalized Systems of Preferences (GSP) trade program with new agriculture-specific eligibility criteria, giving U.S. dairy producers a fairer opportunity to sell their products in key markets. GSP has not been in effect since it expired at the end of 2020.

The GSP trade program helps developing countries use trade to grow their economies by eliminating U.S. duties for a wide range of products. GSP-eligible countries must meet certain conditions. Today’s bill will introduce new provisions for the agriculture industry, including requirements that beneficiary countries provide open and equitable market access to U.S. agriculture exports and protect the generic use of common food and beverage terms like “parmesan” and “feta.”

“American dairy producers and cooperatives rely upon fair access to international markets,” said Gregg Doud, NMPF president and CEO. “We’re thankful for Representatives Smith, Panetta and Fischbach’s leadership on preserving market access for U.S. dairy exports and sending a message to competitors who try to create an unlevel playing field.”

“The U.S. dairy community is grateful for these expanded criteria, which will enable America’s dairy farmers and producers to compete on a level playing field in these new and growing markets,” said Krysta Harden, USDEC president and CEO. “A special thank you to Representatives Adrian Smith, Jimmy Panetta, and Michelle Fischbach, who continue to be champions for the U.S. dairy industry. Now more than ever, our members count on exports to succeed, and we look forward to supporting this bill through to the finish line.”

As the European Union continues to try to monopolize common name foods and beverages  by imposing overreaching geographical indication policies on countries worldwide, the new GSP eligibility requirements would provide a vital response on behalf of American cheesemakers.

“The European Union has expanded its protectionist and anti-competitive campaign to monopolize common name food and beverages well beyond its borders, to countries in every corner of the globe,” said Jaime Castaneda, CCFN executive director. “The U.S. government has the political and economic influence to fight back. We’re pleased to see that Congress is starting to utilize the tools at its disposal to secure producers’ common names rights.”

NMPF Advocates for Common Names Protections in USTR Comments

NMPF, in partnership with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), submitted comments to the U.S. Trade Representative Jan. 24 that emphasized the U.S. government’s need. to secure commitments from trading partners to assure the future use of certain generic cheese terms. The comments, part of NMPF’s ongoing mission to protect the rights of U.S. cheesemakers to use common names like “parmesan” and “feta” worldwide, were submitted in response to the agency’s request for input on its annual Special 301 review of intellectual property trade issues.

NMPF and USDEC’s submission supported more comprehensive comments from the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs. CCFN reiterated how producers on-the-ground are negatively affected when the European Union confiscates common names, and detailed the specific markets that the administration should prioritize work in to preserve export opportunities.

Trade Team Builds International Ties While Supporting U.S. Dairy

  • Championed the introduction of the Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act to protect market access for U.S. cheesemakers
  • Secured the right of producers to use the common name “gruyere” in the U.S. market through a landmark legal victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • Led engagement with the U.S. government to hold Canada accountable for its ongoing violations of USMCA’s dairy provisions
  • Promoted U.S. dairy’s trade initiatives and sustainability progress as lead sponsor of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s agricultural ministerial luncheon in Seattle
  • Formed alliances with dairy and agricultural organizations worldwide to strengthen and grow NMPF’s voice.

NMPF trade activities this year have included initiatives that defend U.S. products in the global arena while expanding trade. Efforts made in collaboration with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) prompted the May 17 introduction of the bipartisan, bicameral Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act to increase U.S. government actions to protect common terms like “parmesan” and “feta” in export markets. The milestone bill to advance common name protections capped off months of congressional engagement, including a March 1 event on Capitol Hill.

The SAVE Act explicitly defines “common names” as a term ordinarily used for marketing a food product, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and directs the U.S. government to proactively defend the rights of U.S. common name users and exporters. Led in the Senate by Sens. John Thune, R-SD, Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, Roger Marshall, R-KS, and Tina Smith, D-MN, and in the House by Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-SD, Jim Costa, D-CA, Michelle Fischbach, R-MN, and Jimmy Panetta, D-CA, the SAVE Act is expected to be incorporated into the 2023 Farm Bill. Members and supporters can make their voice heard by writing to their representatives in Congress through NMPF’s advocacy platform.

NMPF also secured a key victory for U.S. cheese producers and dairy farmers through a March 3 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which confirmed that “gruyere” is a common name, in opposition to French and Swiss consortiums which hoped to trademark the term in the U.S. market. The NMPF trade policy team, alongside USDEC and CCFN, worked diligently with the legal team to ensure that American gruyere producers can continue to market and sell their products in the United States.

NMPF’s dedication to building dairy exports through expanding market has included fly-ins to DC, use of congressional trade hearings to elevate dairy priorities, meetings with USTR and USDA political appointees on trade, intensive work with U.S. negotiators on using the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to address nontariff trade barriers, and joint agricultural coalition efforts such as the trade-focused August 21 letter to 2024 Presidential candidates urging a greater commitment to trade agreements.

Efforts also extend to ensuring existing agreements deliver full benefits for U.S. dairy. NMPF commended the U.S. government’s Jan. 31 announcement that it requested a second USMCA panel to hold Canada responsible for violating the agreement’s dairy market access obligations. The announcement resulted from extensive work by NMPF with USTR and USDA last year to ensure that the second USMCA case was well-positioned for success. NMPF and USDEC since January have continued to work closely with USTR and USDA to support their case and ensure that Canada grants U.S. producers and exporters the market access negotiated and promised under USMCA.

To bolster NMPF’s work to preserve and expand market access for dairy products in markets around the world, the organization has also continued to grow its global voice and influence, forming partnerships with leading dairy and agricultural organizations overseas.

As governments around the world embrace protectionist stances and adopt ill-advised policies, NMPF strives to continue to grow its network of allies to support pro-dairy, pro-trade and science-based rules. Strengthening ties in Latin America, NMPF announced on April 20 a new collaboration with the National Agricultural Organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia to represent the dairy and livestock industry in international climate discussions. During a trip to Japan, NMPF formalized a July 6 “Letter of Friendship” with JA-Zenchu, Japan’s Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, to address the common difficulties that dairy farmers in the two countries are facing. Most recently, NMPF and USDEC signed on July 27 an agreement with the Italian Dairy Association, Assolatte, to promote the nutritional benefits of dairy products and support dairy-friendly policies in international forums.

NMPF’s Castaneda Advocates for Dairy in Switzerland

NMPF’s Jaime Castaneda pushed to protect common food names at the July 10 World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) general assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. NMPF’s executive vice president for policy development and strategy represented the U.S. dairy sector as well as other manufacturers of common-food-named products.

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs, holds observer status in the organization because of its leadership on protecting common names like “parmesan” and “feta.” Castaneda advocated for a balanced approach that protects the rights of common names users while still honoring legitimate geographical indications (GIs). NMPF’s engagement with WIPO – an influential organization that has traditionally supported an agenda that has favored GI interests – is critical for countering the European Union’s common name monopolization campaign and keeping markets open for U.S. dairy producers around the globe.

Castaneda also joined a non-governmental organizations session with WIPO Director General Daren Tang and met with government representatives from the United States and elsewhere who participated in the assembly.

While in Geneva, Castaneda also met with World Trade Organization (WTO) officials and government representatives on July 11-13 about the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference taking place Feb. 26-29, 2024. Castaneda participated in sessions with the New Zealand and Australian Ambassadors to the WTO, Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Committee Marco Molina, WTO Deputy Director General Angela Ellard and several country delegations to discuss agricultural priorities for the upcoming February ministerial, including WTO dispute settlement reform and market access.

Cheese-Name Fight Vital for Industry

What’s in a name? Quite a lot. In dairy, a name defines a taste and experience. And that’s why European Union attempts to monopolize commonly understood cheese names poses a problem for consumers and cheese companies, as John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison explains in the latest Dairy Defined Podcast.

“Our dairy farmers here in Wisconsin and other states, we can’t go to Europe and sell a Parmesan cheese. We can’t go to Europe and sell a cheese called feta,” he said. “It’s infuriating because those names are used worldwide and the cheeses are produced worldwide. But the EU has put up walls.”

Umhoefer, joined by NMPF Senior Vice President for Trade Policy Shawna Morris, also discusses recent legal victories and a congressional effort to help U.S. producers stifle EU attempts to use cheese names as a trade barrier. The full podcast is here. You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts. Broadcast outlets may use the MP3 file below. Please attribute information to NMPF.


NMPF-Led Common Names Legislation Introduced in Congress

NMPF, working in collaboration with the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), spurred the May 17 introduction of the bipartisan Safeguarding American Value-Added Exports (SAVE) Act, a milestone in the organizations’ efforts to preserve common cheese names in export markets around the world.

Outlined and supported by NMPF, CCFN and USDEC, the SAVE Act would amend the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978 in two keys ways by:

  • Explicitly defining “common names” as a term ordinarily used for marketing a food product, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA);
  • Defining foreign restrictions of those common names as an unfair trade practice; and
  • Directing USDA to “coordinate with the U.S. Trade Representative to proactively defend the right to use common names for agricultural commodities or food products in their markets” through various negotiating tools.

The legislation calls for USDA and USTR to use bilateral, plurilateral, or multilateral agreements, memoranda of understanding, and other instruments to ensure that American dairy and other agricultural producers will be able to use the common names in food and beverage exports.

Led in the Senate by Sens. John Thune, R-SD, Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, Roger Marshall, R-KS, and Tina Smith, D-MN, and in the House by Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-SD, Jim Costa, D-CA, Michelle Fischbach, R-MN, and Jimmy Panetta, D-CA,, NMPF plans to work with the bill’s leads to ensure the legislative text is captured in the Farm Bill. That would mark the first farm bill effort on common names.

Given the outsized impact that illegitimate geographical indications have on American cheesemakers, the SAVE Act signifies a much-needed development that would benefit the U.S. dairy industry should it become law. NMPF will continue to work with its allied organizations and supporting members to ensure passage of this important new tool.

USTR Report Emphasizes Importance of Preserving Common Food Names

NMPF’s efforts to protect the rights of dairy producers to use common names such as parmesan or feta were supported by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office in its April 26 report on international challenges to intellectual property rights.

In its annual Special 301 Intellectual Property Report, USTR highlighted several policy concerns that NMPF and USDEC raised in joint comments filed on Jan. 30, as well as in a separate filing by the Consortium for Common Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs.

The report describes in detail the European Union’s ongoing campaign to abuse and misuse geographical indication (GI) rules to confiscate generic food and beverage terms and prevent U.S. producers from selling certain common name foods in specific markets:

The EU GI system and strategy “adversely impact access for U.S. and other producers in the EU market and other markets by granting protection to terms that are considered in those markets to be the common name for products,” the report stated.  “The EU has granted GI protection to thousands of terms that now only certain EU producers can use in the EU market, and many of these producers then block the use of any term that even ‘evokes’ a GI.

“As part of its trade agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent any producer, except from those in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago, or feta. This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products produced in countries around the world.”

NMPF will continue to engage USTR and the rest of the administration to turn these concerns into concrete actions. The U.S. government has a full suite of tools at its disposal, including existing free trade agreements and upcoming trade negotiations, to establish firm and lasting market access protections with U.S. trading partners around the world.

Court of Appeals Extends Huge Victory for Worldwide Producers of “Gruyere”

Today, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their ongoing battle to protect the right of producers to use generic names in the U.S. market.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the prior decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in finding “gruyere” to be a generic term for a variety of cheese. The Fourth Circuit’s clear decision should put an end to the attempt by Swiss and French consortiums to expropriate a common food name through a U.S. certification mark registration.

The Fourth Circuit found that the evidence “is ‘so one-sided’ that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and Opposers must prevail as a matter of law. “ The Court reasoned that the “the common usage of gruyere ‘establish[es] that when purchasers walk into retail stores and ask for [gruyere], they regularly mean’ a type of cheese, and not a cheese that was produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France.“  The Fourth Circuit concluded that “the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear:  cheese consumers in the United States understand ‘GRUYERE’ to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic.”

For over a decade, well-resourced European interests have attempted to confiscate common names to prevent non-European producers from using long-established generic terms, essentially monopolizing the ability to produce certain products for producers in limited and specific regions.

This decision reinforces that generic terms like “gruyere” refer to types of food, and a method of production regardless of where they are produced.

“The United States remains a bastion for the defense of consumers’ and producers’ property rights that have been trampled in Europe and many countries around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The court has sent a clear message that European attempts to stop American producers from using generic food names in the U.S. will be firmly rejected. It is a momentous victory for American consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”

USTR Amplifies NMPF Concerns on Common Cheese Names in Key Report

NMPF push for U.S. action to address the EU’s campaign to claim exclusive rights to use common food names like “parmesan” and “feta” were highlighted in by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office in an April 27 report on intellectual property impediments around the world.

USTR included in its annual Special 301 Intellectual Property Report  numerous policy concerns raised in January in a joint filing by NMPF and USDEC and also detailed in a separate filing by the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), which NMPF’s trade policy team staffs.

Echoing alarms raised by NMPF, USDEC and CCFN, the USTR report outlined global challenges on intellectual property issues, describing in detail the European Union’s (EU) campaign to eliminate competition in the global marketplace by restricting the use of common food and beverage terms.

“As part of its trade agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent any producer, except those in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago, or feta,” USTR’s report noted “This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products produced in countries around the world.”

While NMPF appreciates the accurate diagnosis of the EU’s deliberate global strategy, the organization is asking the administration to develop a proactive common food name strategy to counter EU efforts. The government has a broad range of tools at its disposal, including Free Trade Agreements, the upcoming Indo-Pacific Economic Framework negotiations and Trade and Investment Framework Agreements, which should be used to establish concrete market access protections with U.S. trading partners around the world.

U.S. Trade Representative Remarks on EU GI Abuses in Special 301 Report

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) today welcomed the U.S. Trade Representative’s prioritization in this year’s Special 301 Report of the importance of preserving U.S. food and beverage producers’ market access rights in the face of persistent efforts by the European Union (EU) to misuse geographical indications (GIs) and create non-tariff barriers to trade in markets around the world. The report follows detailed comments on the global scale of various common name threats submitted in January by CCFN and supported by USDEC and NMPF.

This annual report outlines global challenges on intellectual property issues and describes in detail the European Union’s (EU) campaign to eliminate competition by restricting the use of common food and beverage terms, such as “parmesan,” “bologna” and “chateau.” The EU’s strategy, active in numerous countries around the world, erects unfair barriers to trade that negatively impact non-EU exporters relying on common food names, as illustrated by USTR’s report which noted, “As part of its trade agreement negotiations, the EU pressures trading partners to prevent any producer, except from those in certain EU regions, from using certain product names, such as fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago, or feta. This is despite the fact that these terms are the common names for products produced in countries around the world.”

“We whole-heartedly agree with USTR about the harm imposed by the EU’s deliberate restriction of generic food and beverage terms in markets around the world,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director of CCFN. “USTR’s Special 301 report should serve as a foundation upon which the administration can build a more proactive and focused global campaign of its own to counteract the EU’s long running efforts. U.S. farmers and food producers, and others around the world, deserve the chance to compete fairly in export markets.”

“The U.S. government has accurately diagnosed the EU’s deliberate global strategy of cloaking nontariff trade barriers as ‘GIs’ so that it doesn’t have to compete head-to-head in common product categories with U.S. food producers,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “By deploying all of the tools at its disposal, including use of existing U.S. FTAs, the upcoming IPEF talks and TIFAs, the administration can take strong action to establish concrete market access protections with our trading partners around the world. The time for this is now and we stand ready to support those proactive efforts on behalf of American farmers.”

“Because we export the equivalent of 17% of U.S. milk production, trade barriers like bans on the use of common cheese names have profound consequences for the entire American dairy industry, from the many small and medium-sized family-owned companies to farmer-owned cooperatives and the workers employed there,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “U.S. dairy farmers and cheesemakers only want a fair shot at sharing their high-quality, sustainably produced products with consumers around the globe. By doubling down on combating global restrictions on the sale of common name products, USTR can defend opportunities for American-made products internationally and the jobs they support here at home.”

Judge Rules “Gruyere” is a Common Food Name and Not a Term Exclusive to Europe

A judicial ruling has determined that “gruyere” is a generic style of cheese that can come from anywhere. The decision reaffirms that all cheesemakers, not just those in France or Switzerland, can continue to create and market cheese under this common name.

In the judicial decision made public yesterday evening, the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), and a coalition of other dairy stakeholders prevailed in their sustained fight to preserve the ability of all actors in the U.S. marketplace to use generic terms.

Senior Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld the August 5, 2020, precedential decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

“Not only is this a landmark victory for American dairy farmers and cheese producers who offer gruyere, this win sets a vital precedent in the much larger, ongoing battle over food names in the United States,” said Jaime Castaneda, executive director for CCFN. “The European Union has tried for years to monopolize common names such as gruyere, parmesan, bologna or chateau. This verdict validates that we’re on the right path in our fight on behalf of American food and wine producers to preserve their ability to use long-established generic names.”

According to the Court’s decision, the arguments of the French and Swiss associations were “insufficient and unconvincing” and CCFN presented “overwhelming evidence that cheese purchasers in the United States understand the term GRUYERE to be a generic term which refers to a type of cheese without restriction as to where that cheese is produced.”

Meanwhile, Europe continues its aggressive and predatory efforts to confiscate names that entered the public domain decades ago. The latest attack was launched by the French and Swiss gruyere associations which had sought to register “Gruyere” as a certification mark in the United States, thereby enabling them to prevent use of the generic term by others in the U.S. marketplace. The USPTO determined last year that the application should be denied, in the process upholding the widespread generic use in the U.S. of the term “gruyere.”

“French and Swiss gruyere producers already have access to the U.S. market and the use of distinctive trademark logos,” noted Castaneda. “In fact, the Swiss association has already registered a logo certification mark with the USPTO for ‘Le Gruyère Switzerland AOC’ to help it uniquely brand Swiss gruyere. Despite this, both foreign associations appealed the USPTO’s ruling to the federal court last year.”

With support from USDEC and NMPF, their member companies, and non-member companies that contributed to supporting the opposition, CCFN dedicated extensive time and resources throughout the appeal process to demonstrate the extensive use of gruyere in the U.S. marketplace and persuasively argue that all cheesemakers and their customers should retain their rights to continue to produce and sell gruyere in the United States.

“This is a huge victory for common sense and for hard-working manufacturers and dairy farmers,” said Krysta Harden, USDEC president and CEO. “When a word is used by multiple companies in multiple stores and restaurants every day for years, as gruyere has been, that word is generic, and no one owns the exclusive right to use it. We are gratified that Judge Ellis saw this straightforward situation so clearly and upheld the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s finding that gruyere is an established generic term.”

“NMPF continues to firmly oppose any attempt to monopolize generic names like gruyere and to reject blatant European market-share grabs designed to limit competition,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO. “Today’s announcement is a landmark win for American dairy farmers and the commonly named cheeses they produce and sell around the world.”

CCFN, USDEC, and NMPF support valid geographical indications (GIs) – compound names associated with specialized foods from regions throughout the world – when used in good faith rather than to establish unfair trade barriers to the sale of common name foods and beverages.

NMPF Urges USTR to Enhance Efforts to Protect Use of Common Cheese Names

NMPF joined with USDEC to submit comments on Jan. 28 to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office urging a more robust approach to preserving U.S. cheesemakers’ ability to export their products that rely on common cheese names such as parmesan, feta, asiago and others. The submission also voiced strong support for more detailed comments filed by the Consortium for Common Food Names. Both were filed in response to USTR’s call for input to inform its annual Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property issues that documents key IP challenges facing U.S. companies and what USTR is doing to address them.

NMPF noted in the comments that EU use of FTAs to erect barriers to competition “creates a deeply uneven playing field that makes it much more difficult to successfully export the products that American workers have created using milk from U.S. farms.” To address this, NMPF urged the Administration to “secure firm and explicit commitments assuring the future use of specific generic food and beverage terms targeted by or at risk of EU monopolization efforts” and noted that last year more than 160 Senators and Republicans had urged the pursuit of that policy.