New moves by the European Commission to grant exclusive use of the term "halloumi" to cheesemakers from Cyprus has New Zealand cheesemakers concerned.
Halloumi is a popular cheese for New Zealand consumers, with a thriving community of New Zealand cheesemakers delivering this product to New Zealand tables, Neil Willman, president of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.
"We are concerned at Europe's continuing campaign to restrict the use of common names in international cheesemaking, at the expense of producers outside of Europe," Willman said.
New Zealand's cheesemaking community is concerned that the European Union (EU) is continuing to protect cheese terms that are generic and in common use around the world, he said.
"This erodes the heritage and evolution of food production in places like New Zealand where cheeses such as feta, gruyere, havarti and halloumi are commonly consumed and considered generic," Willman said in a statement.
The European Union (EU) is using an intellectual property rights system, called 'Geographical Indications' (GIs) to limit the use of food names to European producer groups, arguing the food's characteristics are unique to where and how it has been produced, Willman said.
The move to register halloumi follows quickly behind the recent registrations of cheeses like havarti, despite significant global production outside of the EU.
At the same time the EU is requesting changes to New Zealand's regulatory settings to adopt a sweeping new intellectual property framework to protect its GIs through the ongoing EU-NZ Free Trade Agreement negotiations.
The EU has requested protection under the regime for 2,200 food, wines and spirits names including well-known cheeses such as feta, gruyere and gorgonzola and is seeking provision for additional terms to be protected in the future.
Dairy Companies Association of NZ (DCANZ) executive director Kimberly Crewther said an EU clawback and monopolisation of generic cheese names would limit both domestic cheese production and opportunities to further grow the value of New Zealand's $2 billion cheese exports.
Cheese markets, particularly in Asia, are rapidly evolving and influenced by food fashion, she said.
This means significant potential for exports of commonly known but currently less produced cheeses to grow over time.
The EU GIs agenda aims to limit the flexibility for New Zealand cheese exporters to participate in these new opportunities.
"The opportunity costs of narrowing trade options are always high," Crewther said.
DCANZ is also expressing concern about the lack of balance between what Europe is asking of New Zealand and what it is prepared to put on the table itself.
"EU dairy producers enjoy among the highest levels of trade-distorting subsidies and protections in the world, and instead, rather than liberalising, the EU is seeking to create more," Crewther said.