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EU wants to keep regional produce names for itself

European Union wants to keep produce names like 'feta' and 'gruyere' cheese for itself

The trade and export growth minister, Damien O'Connor says he's "very aware" the European Union wants to secure the protection of some produce names as part of Free Trade Agreement negotiations with New Zealand and other countries.

wide blocks of feta
cheese on a wooden surface

The EU has said about 400 foods - like feta cheese - and spirits geographic indicators and should only be allowed to be used by producers from those locations in Europe. Photo: Dominik Hundhammer via Wikimedia commons

This week Australia's Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, released a list with 172 foods and 236 spirits the EU said have geographic indicators and should only be allowed to be used by producers from those locations in Europe.

It includes EU claims on gruyere, gorgonzola and feta cheese.

Mr O'Connor said officials in New Zealand were at a similar stage of negotiations.

Damien O'Connor. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"We've been very aware of the EU's position on geographic indicators for a long time, they have agreement within their own countries in the EU to protect some of those rights but then to be flexible in some others.

"We're hoping that we can work with them to have flexibility, recognising I guess the expectations of growers and producers in the EU along with the exporters of New Zealand," Mr O'Connor said.

New Zealand speciality cheese producers have expressed concern about what the EU's requests could mean for their industry.

Ultimately, any trade agreement required concessions from both parties, and geographical indicators along with access for goods and services into the EU were at the heart of negotiations, Mr O'Connor said.

"We've indicated we are prepared to talk with them about that but that we need firstly from them a substantive offer on goods access, one that does provide benefits for New Zealand."

Discussions around a FTA had been moving slowly due to uncertainty around Brexit and that had to be sorted before New Zealand could sit down with both the EU and UK and have negotiations that offered real value in the long term, Mr O'Connor said.

"There's a lot of uncertainty and disruption in the world of trade at the moment and you know countries are focused on their first priority, trade agreement with New Zealand is not necessarily at the top, but we're working hard to ensure that we can be first cab off the rank for both the EU and UK, you know once other things get settled."

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