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What’s in a name II?

The European Commission has drawn up a list of 35 food and drink brand names including Champagne, Bordeaux wine, Roquefort cheese and Parma ham that it wants to reserve for EU producers. A Commission official explains:

We’re trying to recuperate the exclusive use of such names in the WTO. We’ve been usurped of the names and we want them back.

Please note the use of the majestic plural.

The agriculture negotiations are one of the sticking points in the wide-ranging trade talks, pitting the EU variously against the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. Those countries accuse Europe of trying to introduce trade protection on farm goods through the back door: As the Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Jon Dudas puts it:

It appears that the EU is asking the U.S. government, U.S. producers and U.S. consumers to subsidise EU producers…so that EU producers can charge monopoly prices for their products.

No element of surprise there as the EU needs to find new ways to pay for the newly ‘reformed’ Common Agricultural Policy…

EU member states are currently chewing over the list. Greece has demanded the inclusion of feta cheese while France wants an extra seven products added including Beaujolais wine and Calvados brandy. Member state trade officials must agree the list by the middle of August.

Well, there is always hope as EUcrats are not known for agreement and ability to meet deadlines…

15 comments to What’s in a name II?

  • S. Weasel

    They want to include feta? Huh. Foods that are named after places I can kind of understand, but “don’t use our native word for goat cheese cured in brine” is pushing it.

  • Richard A. Heddleson

    Do they also want exclusive rights to Total Flaming Arsehole?

  • Guy Herbert

    The comprehensive list is really quite bizarre: Most of the products are French, quite a few Italian, not much from elsewhere at all. A number contain a quite clear geographical reference, which I can’t see anyone trying to use as a generic, and such use seems already to be outlawed under TRIPS (as well as potentially deceptive to any eventual purchaser). And while some are products of distinction–sherry, champagne… –that have become generic words, why anyone would want to protect (or steal) some of the others I can’t understand.

    Another case of the WTO being used to regulate trade rather than free it, I fear.

  • T. Hartin

    And just how do they propose to enforce these restrictions against, say, an American company that sells only to Americans?

  • Richard A. Heddleson

    Mr. Hartin,

    WTO is a treat which the U. S. has ratified and which is thus the supreme Law of the Land under Article VI of the Constitution.

    They have a point, actually, and it is one of the things that will need to be resolved as part of globalization.

    Many Brits have even taken exception to our describing orange cheese as Cheddar. And should someone in Milwaukee be able to buy Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar Cheese from the milk of contented California cows?

    If they want to keep their silly names, let them. A rose… This merely limits the use of the name and makes them a small niche instead of the genuine article at the top of a very large heap. We’ve already signed on to Sparkling Wine and method Champaignoise instead of Champaign. I doubt it helped them. If they want us to drink bordo with our rockford cheese so be it. That’s the advantage of a language that can import foreign words like e-mail.

  • T. Hartin

    “WTO is a treat which the U. S. has ratified and which is thus the supreme Law of the Land under Article VI of the Constitution.”

    Actually, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Treaties do not supercede the Constitution, cannot amend the Consitituion, and cannot be enforced if doing so would violate the Constitution.

    But, say I am a pig farmer in Iowa, and I replicate the process for creating Parma ham. I package and sell my product in Iowa as “T. Hartin’s Parma Ham. Made in the USA from pigs stuffed chock full of creamy GM goodness.” Just who is going to make me stop? The EU has no jurisdiction over me, as far as I know. Will the FDA enforce this EU diktat? Is this EU diktat even part of the WTO accords?

    These are real questions, not rhetorical ones, BTW – I am genuinely curious as to how the EU intends to export these requirements to non-EU countries.

  • Russ Goble

    And, by God, my buffalo wings better damn well be from Buffalo!

    Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

  • Richard A. Heddleson

    Mr. Hartin,

    I am not a lawyer, but Article VI of the Constitution seems pretty clear when it says: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

    The holder of the trademark for Parma as agreed to under the WTO will go to one of the divisions of the two Federal Distirct Courts in Iowa nd bring suit against T. Hartin for trademark infringement. It will be an open and shut case T. Your best hope of appeal is to the WTO, but that is going on right now.

    You might want to be aware that there is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio called Parma. Within Parma is a street called Amrap Drive. I suggest you call your Ham, “T. Hartin’s Genuine amraP Ham, Proudly made in the USA from pigs et al.”

  • “…recuperate the exclusive use…”?

    “…usurped of the names…”?

    They really wrote those things?

    If the EU uses translators of that standard, it’s no wonder the organisation’s confused about names, trademarks, and words.

  • Cydonia

    Actually I have quite a lot of sympathy with producers who find their “famous name” product competing with some grotty misleadingly named fake. In fact this is precisely why English common law has the tort of passing off.

    The EU is a wretched business but on this one issue, I think they may be right.

    Of course, as T Hartin points out, enforcement is a different matter….


  • And, following Cydonia’s point, why can’t the EU just use the ‘passing off’ element in tort?

    Because they can’t bear to be seen to find common-law useful? What do you think, Cydonia?

  • erp

    Not to carp, but isn’t the “imperial we” more apropos (may we use apropos freely or do we needed written permission from the French language police)?

    “Majestic” is a positive value, “imperial” a petty negative just like the EU.

  • T. Hartin

    R. Heddleston –

    Your reading of the Supremacy clause would place the Constitution, treaties, and any federal statutes on a perfectly level footing, which would mean that, in effect, all statutes and treaties would be amendments to the Constitution. The clause is generally read to mean that the Consitution, federal laws, and treaties are supreme over state laws, etc.

    I can assure you that the Constitution is supreme over all federal statutes, and over all treaties. It is not possible to amend the Constitution with a treaty or statute, and any treaty or statute that violates Consitutional protections is unconstitutional and null and void. Otherwise, it would not be a Constitution.

    “The holder of the trademark for Parma as agreed to under the WTO will go to one of the divisions of the two Federal Distirct Courts in Iowa nd bring suit against T. Hartin for trademark infringement. It will be an open and shut case T. Your best hope of appeal is to the WTO, but that is going on right now.”

    A trademark is a unique mark owned by a particular person that is not already in general use. Nobody could trademark “Buffalo wings”, and I doubt anyone can trademark “feta cheese” or “Parma ham.” This doesn’t seem to be a trademark issue, at least not as trademarks are understood in the US.

    The trick is to convert EU regulations into something that is binding on US producers. I can see the WTO providing a mechanism for international enforcement of property rights, such as trademarks and patents. Even then, I would expect that the foreign trademark would have to meet some kind of minimal US standard or otherwise be consistent with US law. These naming proposals don’t seem to create property rights, though. I don’t know if the WTO provides a mechanism for placing US residents under regulations promulgated by EU bureaucrats.

    Anybody know of a readable, short article explaining how the WTO works, and just how it handles these kinds of issues?

  • Richard A. Heddleson


    From the WTO’s website: here

    The WTO’s procedure for resolving trade quarrels under the Dispute Settlement Understanding is vital for enforcing the rules and therefore for ensuring that trade flows smoothly. Countries bring disputes to the WTO if they think their rights under the agreements are being infringed. Judgements by specially-appointed independent experts are based on interpretations of the agreements and individual countries’ commitments.

    The system encourages countries to settle their differences through consultation. Failing that, they can follow a carefully mapped out, stage-by-stage procedure that includes the possibility of a ruling by a panel of experts, and the chance to appeal the ruling on legal grounds. Confidence in the system is borne out by the number of cases brought to the WTO — around 300 cases in eight years compared to the 300 disputes dealt with during the entire life of GATT (1947–94).”

    So basically a deal will get cut in a back room. I agree that the U. S. courts will not enforce “regulations promulgated by EU bureaucrats, but they will enforce agreements into which the US has entered and sooner or later we will enter into such an agreement if we can get enough from the Europeans to make it worth it for us.

  • jason

    Maybe I’m just confused, but since many of these terms (like feta, etc..) have been in common use for decades (if not centuries) before modern trademark law was established (much less the WTO), how can anyone defend their rights to sole ownership? Who would hold the trademark? A city, a province, a country? Would individual producers in those regions have to licence the trademark from the EU? I dosen’t make sense.