More than 175 Republican and Democratic House members are urging the Obama administration to use the transatlantic trade talks with the European Union to address a variety of export barriers hampering the U.S. dairy industry, like the EU's attempts to keep U.S. companies from using common food names like parmesan and feta in export markets and even in the U.S. domestic market.

Led by co-chairs Reps. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus spearheaded a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in which the House members said negotiations with the EU over the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership offer a good opportunity to knock down trade barriers that block U.S. dairy sales in the critical European market.

"Although both the U.S. and the EU are major dairy producing and exporting regions, the U.S. has a $1.3 billion trade deficit with the EU for dairy products because of the burdens that the EU imposes on American companies trying to export their products to the EU," the lawmakers wrote in the Farm Bureau-supported letter earlier this month. 

The House members noted that EU dairy tariffs average roughly three times the level of U.S. dairy tariffs.

"While the EU enjoys a country-specific tariff rate quota for dairy access into the U.S. market, the U.S. has no such similar preferential access to EU countries," they said. "Furthermore, while U.S. certification requirements for the vast majority of EU dairy products are relatively nominal, EU certificate requirements for dairy products are more extensive, impeding U.S. access into the EU market."

Also in the letter, House members voiced their deep concern about EU efforts to restrict the use of many common food names such as asiago, feta, parmesan and muenster, which European officials say are "geographical indicators" and can only be appropriately displayed on products made in certain areas of Europe.

 "The EU is taking a mechanism that was created to protect consumers against misleading information and instead using it to carve out exclusive market access for its own producers," they said. "This type of barrier to trade and commerce defies the fundamental goals of a trade agreement, and we urge you to work aggressively against the EU's efforts in this respect in order to preserve both domestic and export opportunities for these products."

A number of senators have sent similar letters to Vilsack and Froman urging the policymakers to continue to push back against the EU's attempts to use geographical indicators to restrict U.S. cheese and meat exports, particularly to nations with which the U.S. already has free trade agreements.

As a member of the Consortium for Common Food Names, Farm Bureau is working with leaders in agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights to foster the adoption of an appropriate model for protecting both legitimate geographical indications and generic food names. Farm Bureau opposes geographical indicators that would replace common names used by producers and consumers from around the world.

The other Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus co-chairs joining Reps. Ribble and Welch on the dairy letter include Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.).

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation