Your next fancy Parma ham-Roquefort sandwich may soon just be a plain ham and cheese if the European Union has its way and gets the World Trade Organization to protect the brands of 41 types of food and drink.
Would it taste as good called something else? Italian Parma ham is called "N.1 ham" in Canada.
If it's up to the European Union, the next round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico starting September 10 could make the culinary lives of many a little less special. That’s because this week, the EU has agreed on a list of 41 types of European food and drink it says should be protected from brand rip-offs, including Parmesan cheese and Chianti wine as well as the aforementioned salty Parma ham and stinky Roquefort cheese.
"This is not about protectionism. It is about fairness," said European Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler. "It is simply not acceptable that the EU cannot sell its genuine Parma ham in Canada because the trademark 'Parma Ham' is reserved for a ham produced in Canada," he railed.
The EU says the products on the list – mostly high quality specialty goods – are particularly prone to piracy that takes place at the expense of EU producers.
"Together with our allies, the EU will do its utmost to achieve better protection for regional quality products, from Europe's Roquefort cheese to India's Darjeeling tea, from Guatemala's Antigua coffee to Morocco's Argan oil in the WTO talks," Fischler announced. Knock-off products
But he hasn't yet convinced some of the EU's main trade partners, including the United States and the Cairns Group of 17 countries that advocate free markets. The dissenters rebut that the EU is just trying to engage in back-door protectionism. After all, immigrants brought many of the products, like sherry or Parmesan cheese, to their new homes, where they still produce them according to traditional recipes.
It took weeks of wrangling within the EU to come up with the list in the first place. Greece threatened to blackball it in July if feta cheese and Kalamata olives weren't there. All but five of the delicacies on the final list are alcohol or cheese.
In the end Athens gave up on the olives and agreed to having its booze, ouzo, and its cheese, feta, on the list. France, Italy, Portugal and Spain are there with numerous kinds of liquor and cheese. Even Germany managed to get some alcohol listed – Liebfraumilch, a sweet wine looked down on more often than not.
Germany and Denmark are still smarting that they can no longer call their feta cheese feta since the European Commission decided in 2002 that feta can only come from Greece. Many other products on the list are already protected inside the EU under European Union regulations, including Parma ham and Grana Padano cheese.