The EU and China have published a list of 200 European and Chinese geographical indications (GIs) in June that are protected on their respective markets, as part of a bilateral deal that should be concluded by December, according to Italia Oggi in late July.
The move came after a broad group of exporters led by the United States and the European Union sent a joint letter to Chinese regulators on June 12 asking them to suspend a proposed requirement, due to take effect October 1, for each food shipment to have an inspection certificate from a foreign government.
The promotion of geographical indications (GI) has helped EU products attract new emerging markets which seek quality food. However, Europol warns that fake GI products are on the rise across the EU and policymakers should not disregard the protection of intellectual rights.
Both parties submitted 100 denominations each but many European items, particularly those from Italy, have been left off the list. This is because the European Commission’s selection criteria for its 100 denominations considered GI market volume in China and the potential risk of counterfeiting. Only one product from the South of Italy made it onto the list: buffalo mozzarella.
The Commission immediately began negotiations with the EU member states to include other products on the list.
A first draft added a further 162 European products and Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs), including five Sicilian items, all selected based on predicted demand in China. In January, China, in fact, eliminated its phytosanitary barriers that had hindered imports of Sicilian citrus fruit.
Italian MEP Michela Giuffrida (S&D group), a substitute on the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, asked the Commission to include more Sicilian products on the new list, to guarantee “territorial representation of the island’s products”.
The EU’s Southern member states are the leading producers of foods certified by EU quality schemes: between them, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece account for 70 percent of the total.
Giuffrida insisted that the road ahead is clear and that the range of products agreed with China should be widened. She added that the “appeal” of GI’s is clear and that products bearing the stamp of approval often see an upsurge in foreign sales and demand.
Chinese products aspiring to obtain EU GI status include Yantai Ping Guo (the Yantai apple), Hengxian Mo Li Hua Cha (jasmine tea), Panjin Da Mi (rice), and Baise Mang Guo (the Baise mango).
The bilateral deal between Europe and China was welcomed immediately by Italy’s national confederation of cultivators, Coldiretti, which said that “the defense of Italian products from unfair competition posed by fakes and imitations will encourage Italian foodstuff exports”.
EU and US exporters urge China to suspend food import controls
Food exporters including the United States and the European Union are stepping up pressure on China to scale back plans for intensive inspections of food imports into China that they say would hamper access to this fast-growing market.
The group sent a joint letter to Chinese regulators asking them to suspend the proposed October 1 requirement for each food shipment to have an inspection certificate from a foreign government that would disrupt trade and asks Beijing to follow global practice by applying the requirement only to higher-risk foods, according to a report in The Associated Press.
The dispute adds to complaints Beijing is reducing market access for a range of goods from fresh food including meat, to dried fruit, cocoa, and spices, in violation of its free-trade commitments. Foreign officials expressed concern they might extend to such products as coffee, wine, pasta, and chocolate.
The letter, dated June 12 and seen by The Associated Press, was sent by an unusually broad group including the 28-nation European Union, the US, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Israel and four other countries.
It is addressed to the director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, known as AQSIQ, and the Chinese commerce minister.
The letter says the rules would affect billions of dollars’ worth of meat, fruit, dairy and other products and thousands of suppliers who look to China as a growing export market. Foreign suppliers complain Beijing already uses safety rules in ways that hamper access for beef and other goods in violation of its market-opening commitments.
AQSIQ did not reply to a request for comment or questions sent by fax about how regulations might be changed in response to foreign appeals, AP said, reporting from Beijing.
The EU role highlights the broad scope of foreign anxiety. Action by the EU requires unanimous agreement by its members, which means nations including Greece and Hungary that want to attract Chinese investment consider the threat serious enough to risk a possible backlash. Eastern European countries with little manufacturing pay for Chinese goods by selling them ham, apples, and other food.
Chinese food imports in the first four months of this year rose 17 percent over a year earlier to US$39.4 billion.
Foreign governments have been lobbying Beijing since last year to scale back the proposed regulations. European officials complained they appeared to be intended to shield Chinese suppliers from competition and allow Beijing to block imports from individual countries if it chooses.
China submitted its proposed regulations to the World Trade Organization the last week of June as an official notice to other governments, which have 60 days to comment on them.
In a possible concession to foreign appeals, the regulations on the WTO website say inspection certificates would be required to say food items were made by a supplier supervised by government regulators and were fit for human consumption. This appears to be a significant change from an earlier proposal to require inspectors to confirm that food complies with China’s quality standards.
The latest version still says each “batch of food” would require a certificate, which foreign officials previously complained would waste resources that should be focused on high-risk products such as dairy.