EFOW’s President Interview on the TTIP and Geographical Indication wines

  • riccardo_ricci_curbastroThe conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the US is one of the EU’s priorities for 2015. Can the wine sector benefit from this agreement?

Yes, certainly. Nowadays, the US is our largest export market. Wine consumption in the US has significantly increased in the last decade and is now the largest wine market in the world.

In 2005, the EU and the US signed a wine agreement. It was a first step but it had serious shortcomings, particularly with regard to the protection of our Geographical Indications (GIs). Many of our wine names, including the most prestigious ones such as Champagne, Chianti, Port, Chablis, Sherry, Burgundy and 10 others, are considered by US lawmakers as ‘semi-generic’ terms. A Californian winemaker can thus produce and market ‘Californian Champagne’. This has a negative impact on our market shares and consumers loyalty and undermines the very concept of GI. As for the rest of our GI wines’ names, they are protected through a labelling system managed by the ‘United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’. This is therefore a protection against consumer deception and not strictly a protection of our intellectual property rights. In order to be better protected in the United States, many GIs must invest in registering a trade mark. This is expensive and not always very effective. The TTIP agreement represents a real opportunity to put the record straight on this very important issue for our sector.

  •  A contrario what are the risks?

All agreements rise from a compromise. This means that in return for the protection of our GI names in the US we may need to make some concessions. The United States has always had a policy that goes against the recognition of GIs; it is hardly imaginable that they will take a step in our direction without asking anything in return. We may expect some requests relating to our sector for example on oenological practices or traditional terms – another bone of contention. The US could look for concessions on other sectors. However, the biggest risk that I see today is a a minima free trade agreement. The United States has never discussed GI protection with the EU seriously and given the commitment of the EU and the US to rapidly finalise this agreement we may have an agreement that will not include any advancements on GI protection. That would not be acceptable.

  • How is EFOW working with the Commission and the European Parliament on this dossier?

EFOW has led for two years an information and awareness raising campaign among European institutions. Our first objective was to ensure the inclusion of GI protection in the mandate given by the Council of Ministers to the European Commission for the launch of the negotiations. Today, we are working to secure the inclusion of GIs in the final agreement. This requires taking part to public forums, civil dialogue groups, conferences organised by the EU and US negotiators, but also the communication with the press and the organisation of meetings with the services of Commissioner Hogan and Malmström and MEPs.

  • The “.vin” and “.wine” battle recalled the strategic importance of the protection of wine names for the EU and for some US regions (Napa Valley, Long Island, Oregon wine etc). Should the protection of GIs on the Internet become a priority in all trade negotiations?

Yes, it is move forward on this. Up to now international negotiations have mainly focused on the real world (offline) and have not lent enough attention to the virtual world (online). However, in recent years, with the spread of information and communication technologies, the Internet has become an increasingly used tool by consumers to access information and to purchase goods. To quote a few figures, online wine sales have increased by 30% per year. The Internet might become one of our biggest markets if not the biggest in the near future. It is hence essential to define the rules of this new market to ensure a fair and open competition. EFOW’s members believe that the European Commission should launch an in-depth debate on this matter and address this new reality before it is too late and potential opportunities for our producers are occupied by cyber-squatters.