Farmers concerned as Government moves towards a ban on common food names

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The National Farmers’ Federation is dismayed the Government has taken the next step towards banning the use of common food names in Australia, such as feta, brie, camembert, and scotch beef.

“Australian farmers will be worse off should the Government ultimately agree to the EU’s demands that we extend protection for geographical indications (GIs) to food and others wines and spirits,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

Today’s announcement that the Government has launched public consultations on Geographical Indications (GIs) is a precondition set by the European Union to start market access discussions under the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

“FTA negotiations are supposed to open markets and liberalise trade between FTA partners,” Mr Mahar said.

“All we have heard from the EU since these negotiations began was that agriculture was a ‘sensitive’ sector for the EU, and Australia would need to agree to extend protection to EU GIs if we wanted an FTA.”

Mr Mahar said if the Government went soft on GIs it would be a two-pronged blow for farmers.

“Not only are we told new access for ‘sensitive’ agricultural products will be difficult, and that we’re not going to get any new access for sugar, dairy, small goods and other products, we’re now expected to give up the use of common food names and the sales that go with them?”

“As Minister Birmingham pointed out in his media release, Australia and the EU already have a strong trade and investment relationship. As a bloc, the EU is Australia’s second largest trading partner,

“What the Minister did not acknowledge was the huge trade deficit in agricultural trade Australia has with the EU – a deficit created by high EU barriers to Australia’s agricultural imports and multi-billion dollar subsidies to EU farmers.

“For this FTA to have any value for Australia, it must radically reduce EU barriers to agricultural trade,” Mr Mahar said.

For years, Australian farmers have suffered from EU protectionist policies, including their policy on GIs. The FTA presents a critical opportunity to level the playing field.

“At this time of major disruption in global markets, it’s critical the EU and Australia show leadership in defending open markets and global trade rules,” Mr Mahar said.

“EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom said, when FTA negotiations were launched, that Australia and the EU had ‘always been defenders of international trade’ and ‘those of us who do believe in free trade must stick together’.

“If the EU truly believes in trade and open markets, then it’s time to end the hypocrisy and remove the barriers blocking Australian agricultural imports.”

Australia, and other like-minded countries, have fought against the EU’s international efforts to extend GIs for years.

“We’ve fought it because it’s bad policy,” Mr Mahar said.

“Australia’s system of trade mark protection can provide the same, if not better, protection for specialised products. We don’t need a new, separate and tax-payer funded system to protect European product names.

“The Australian Government should not consider any extension of GI protection without a guaranteed commitment from the EU for exceptional market access for all Australian agricultural products without any exclusions.

“If the EU truly believes their rhetoric on free trade, this outcome will benefit European farmers and consumers as much as Australian farmers,” Mr Mahar said.

/Public Release. View in full here.
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