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15th Dec 2019

EU and China agree to defend 'gastronomic jewels'

  • Special food and agriculture products will be protected on both sides, with fakes often coming from the US, not China (Photo: EUOBOR)

The EU and China on Wednesday (7 November) agreed to protect 100 European special food and drink products, such as Irish whiskey, prosciutto di Parma, feta cheese, in China - and give the same level of protection to 100 Chinese products in Europe.

Talks on the issue started over 10 years ago, when the two sides agreed in 2012 to protect 10 specialised products, while the list now include Munchener Bier, Ouzi, or Anji Bai Cha (Anji White Tea) and Panjin rice on the other side.

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"It is a win for both parties, strengthening our trading relationship, benefiting our agricultural and food sectors, and consumers on both sides," agriculture commissioner, soon to be trade commissioner, Phil Hogan said in China.

The deal should defend foods protected by "geographical indicators" (GI) which should help boost trade in higher-value goods - as these products are on average more than twice the price of products without geographical specifications.

The deal means that the names of protected products can only be used food or drink from a particular region or country.

It also means that US, Australian or New Zealand producers will no longer be able to use those protected names on their exports to China.

A commission official said imitations of these products are almost exclusively coming from third countries and are not from China itself. But there is a transition period for feta, Asiago and Pecorino Romano cheeses.

The deal still requires approval by EU leaders and the European Parliament, and is expected to enter into force before the end of 2020.

EU agri-food exports to China amounted to €12.8bn between September 2018 to August 2019, according to the commission.

China is the second largest destination for such "gastronomic jewels", as one EU official put it, after the US.

After four years, the list of products will be expanded to an additional 175 GI names, on both sides, which have already been agreed by the EU and China.

Under the agreement EU and Chinese authorities have to enforce the rules: if a possibly illegal GI-protected product is discovered on the Chinese market, the Chinese authorities have to take action.

The Chinese authorities would have to remove the products or force them to relabel so that they misappropriate the GIs, and the same should happen on the EU side under the deal.

EU officials see this agreement as "a sign of commitment and encouragement to develop other areas of cooperation with China".

The EU and China have struggled for years to make way on a long delayed EU-China investment deal.

European companies are deeply concerned about the lack of market access in China for foreign companies, the restrictions on foreign direct investment, and the dominance of state subsidies to Chinese companies.

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