Tough Cheese: All The Food Names Europe Wants To Ban Aussies Using
Australian cheesemakers are in the firing line as trade talks between the European Union and Australia ramp up.
Aussies love their feta, gruyere and gorgonzola but Australian varieties could soon be forced into a name change to appease EU producers.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham released a list of 172 foods and 236 spirits on Tuesday that the EU wants protected in return for a free trade agreement with Australia.
Basically, all of these products already have protections within the EU under the geographical indications (GI) program, which ultimately entitles farmers and producers to protect names that are based off a location.
While the majority of the 400-odd items on the list won't have the slightest impact on Australian farmers or businesses, there are a few sticking points.
As well as the beloved cheeses listed above, things like scotch beef, scotch lamb, scotch whisky, as well as specific types of prosciutto are on the list.
Packaging may also need to be changed for some products, such as mozzarella cheese, so it doesn't look too similar to European brands.
Trade minister Simon Birmingham admits Australia "doesn't like the idea of GIs," but said it is a non-negotiable for the EU.
What is on the list, however, is open for discussion.
For example, feta is listed as plain old feta but the government will argue that the Australian product could be simply named 'Australian feta' so it is distinguishable.
"I expect that we will have to work hard and negotiate hard with the EU to come up with a compromise that's acceptable to Australian producers whilst dealing with the European concerns of making sure that nobody is passing their product off as being Greek Feta," Birmingham told reporters on Tuesday.
Negotiations into the "ambitious" free trade deal have been underway for the past year, with Australia hoping to export more beef, wheat and sugar into a market worth tens of trillions of dollars.
The EU is Australia's second-largest trading partner -- with two-way goods and services valued at $109billion last year -- but the government will only agree to a free trade deal that assures local farmers and business are better off.
"In the end, any trade negotiation is a two-way street," Birmingham said. "We want better access and terms for Australian farmers and businesses into the EU, they want some particular terms protected for their producers."
"We will drive the best possible bargain and there will only be a deal if it's a deal that on the whole is in Australia's national interest," he continued.
Some farmers may have breathed a sigh of relief when camembert, brie, parmesan and pecorino were left off the list of protected names.
More specific terms such as Brie de Normandie, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano took their place instead.
Industries now have three months to express their views about the list before the government drives "the best possible bargain".
"I will be visiting dairy producers, cheesemakers, spirits manufacturers, those who are affected by the terms on that list to make sure we hear first hand their concerns," Birmingham said.
He hopes a deal that will benefit both Australia and the EU will be agreed to by next year.
"We want to make sure Australian businesses and farmers can diversify their exports, grow their exports, and the European market is well worth going after in that regard," he said.
It's a statement that has been backed by business.
“We support the government’s announcement and will work constructively with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham during the consultation," Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said
It's not the first time the EU's GI demands have caused a stir.
Prosecco remains a contentious issue with the Italians, but the popular wine blend was left off the list of products subject to EU demands -- Australia and Europe already have a wine trade agreement.
You may as well pop open a bottle to celebrate, especially because today is National Prosseco Day, at least in the U.S. But any excuse will do.