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Wisconsin Senators Support Efforts to Protect Cheese Names
USAgNet - 05/16/2018

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson are among two dozens federal lawmakers who are urging federal trade officials to protect America's dairy industry from European trade initiatives that would require producers to change the names of the cheeses they manufacture. In a letter to Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the Senators said they want Mexico to honor existing trade commitments and rejects the EU's trade proposal that would harm American cheese exporters.

The issue came to light last month when the EU and Mexico reached a trade agreement that grants European producers exclusive rights to use 340 food names, known as 'geographical indications,' in Mexico. Afterwards, media reports indicated that the agreement included many food names considered generic in the United States.

"Wisconsin cheese making is vital to our state's economy and our heritage, which is why I am fighting back against any trade proposal that creates an uneven playing field for our Wisconsin businesses to compete," Baldwin said. "The agreement between the European Union and Mexico threatens not only the names of common state products, but also key drivers of our Wisconsin economy. Mexico must reject any proposal that limits Wisconsin businesses' ability to export and compete both domestically and internationally."

American cheesemakers who make products like Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Gruyere, Muenster, Parmesan, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda and Mozzarella would all need to find new names for their products if the EU gets its way.

In the letter, the Senators stated that the U.S. must engage with Mexico on geographic indication restrictions to ensure they comply with existing trade commitments to the United States. These commitments allow American cheese exporters to continue using food names that Mexican consumers are familiar with.

"Anything less would grant European producers market share that American producers took decades to build and unjustly award them the future growth opportunities of those products," the memo stated. "We appreciate your attention to this matter and stand ready to work with you to protect American cheese exports."

Mexico is the largest export destination for American cheese, accounting for around one third of the $1.3 billion in dairy products the U.S. exported to its neighbor last year. If Mexico grants European cheese producers exclusive rights to use common cheese names, as reports indicate it has agreed to do, American producers could lose market share they have spent years developing.

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