Europe's most expensive and exclusive wines, cheeses and hams became part of a global food fight yesterday as the EU began moves to ban foreign producers from using a crop of famous names.
Under the plans, 35 items ranging from champagne to prosciutto di Parma would be protected from imitation outside the EU.
Britain took some officials by surprise by asking for the removal of Stilton cheese from the protected items, arguing that there is no evidence that it is being copied anywhere in the world. But other nations are lobbying hard for more of their products to be included.
The list, which has yet to be finalised, is being compiled as part of world trade negotiations, which resume in Cancun, Mexico, in September.
The idea is to target those names that are so well known, and have spawned so many copies, that they have become generic. The EU now wants to seize back the right to have exclusive use of these brands.
Names such as champagne already have protection within the 15-nation bloc and within a host of countries with which the EU has trade arrangements. For example, a trade deal with South Africa almost stalled on the issue of whether its port and sherry could be sold under those names.
But large chunks of the world do not respect such trademarks, and some even keep the original product out. For example, in Canada, a local supplier has registered its product as Parma ham, forcing the real thing from Italy to be marketed under another name.
The EU has put added emphasis on the fight to protect its top brands because it is trying to reform its agricultural policy. Brussels wants to shift the focus from quantity to quality, and is therefore seeking guarantees that high-value production will be protected.
It also says it is not alone and has support from some developing nations such as India, which is anxious to protect Darjeeling tea, and Thailand, which would like the same protection for jasmine rice.
One EU official said that, despite speculation that hundreds of products would be listed, "there are only a handful of products where we want to use these names exclusively".
With opposition from the US and Australia certain, the UK wants to cut the list further. A British official argued: "Removing Stilton is not going to disadvantage the UK, as there is no evidence of it being produced elsewhere. We also believe that the shorter the list the better its chance of success."
The provisional list included Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Cognac, Grappa (di Barolo, del Piemonte, di Lombardia, del Trentino, del Friuli, del Veneto, dell'Alto Adige), Graves, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Medoc, Moselle, Porto, Rhin, Rioja, Sauternes and Sherry.
Meats and cheeses included were: Asiago, Danablu, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Jambon de Bayonne, Manchego, Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna, Neufchatel, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto Toscano, Reblochon, Roquefort and Stilton.
The scheme is part of a wider approach. The World Trade Organisation is already working to create a registry of wines and spirits, and Brussels wants this approach extended to include premium food.
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