TTIP, the EU-US Free Trade Agreement – Alpine cheese in danger?

TTIP with alps cheese from Alpen Sepp

The free trade agreement TTIP: Is our Austrian alpine cheese also in danger?

Many people are rightly unsettled at the moment. The free trade agreement TTIP would bring some changes for the EU, according to the media. There has also been some heated debate on the subject: TTIP could end the protection of regional products.

In Germany, one could follow discussions in the media of recent days as to whether TTIP could reduce the protection of regional products such as Black Forest ham, e.g:

  • According to Federal Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, producers of regional specialities such as ham or bread could lose their privileges as a result of the free trade agreement between the EU and the USA (TTIP). “If we want to exploit the opportunities of free trade with the huge American market, we can no longer protect every sausage and every cheese as a speciality,” the CSU politician told the news magazine Spiegel.
  • Christoph Minhoff, Chief Executive of the umbrella organisations of the German food industry, for example, told Bild that regional specialities must also remain regional specialities. “We don’t want original Nürnberger Rostbratwürstchen from Kentucky”.

Important question: Could the protected Vorarlberg cheese “alpine cheese” also be affected?

How exactly, we summarize with six questions and answers on the topic and protection of origin of local specialities.

TIPP Free Trade Agreement between EU and USA
TIPP Free Trade Agreement between EU and USA

1. What is TIPP anyway? – Research on the Internet

TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the English abbreviation for a free trade agreement, that the USA and the EU are currently negotiating. Proponents of the TTIP are hoping that free trade will bring greater prosperity, which is the central argument of all economic liberals: When tariff and other trade barriers fall, each country focuses on the business it best controls. Because everyone does what they do best, more things can be produced more cheaply and possibly in better quality than before. Innovation is encouraged because it pays off more quickly in larger markets.

In the end, “apparently” everyone benefits:

  • Consumers get more choice at lower prices.
  • Companies sell more. The economy grows, new jobs are created.
  • The EU Commission and the US government are discussing the details behind closed doors. They want to agree as many common rules as possible and create the largest economic area in the world. During her recent visit to Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally promoted the project: It could give important impulses for the world economy.
  • Critics fear that the agreement will depress wages and lower living standards. The trade unions in particular are warning against this. They therefore want to cooperate more closely than in the past – and accompany the negotiations critically. Every trade opening produces losers who cannot keep up with the new competition from abroad.
    In Colombia, for example, farmers took to the streets last year against the newly concluded free trade agreement with the USA because they saw their economic existence threatened. Even if, on balance, new jobs are created: There will probably also be industries in Europe that are getting into difficulties as a result of liberalisation, but the criticism of TTIP goes much further: until recently the EU Commission kept its negotiating position secret, and it is controversial whether the national parliaments of the member states will ultimately have to approve the agreement. How democratic can such a procedure be? In addition, the agreement grants special rights to companies that invest abroad. If they see their business interests impaired, they can sue in arbitration courts that do not make their decisions publicly and are not subject to democratic control. There is a huge business behind this.

2. What are the EU labels for traditional specialities?

The three EU seals of protection
The three EU protective seals or quality marks

The EU awards the following three quality marks to the quality of high-quality agricultural products and foodstuffs.

It aims to promote diversification of agricultural production, protect product names against misuse and imitation and inform consumers of the specific characteristics of products.

The PDO aims to identify the production, processing and manufacture of a product in a given geographical area according to a recognised and established method.

The aim of the PDO is to highlight the close link between agricultural products and foodstuffs and the region of origin. At least one of the production stages, i.e. production, processing or manufacture, must take place in the region of origin. The traditional speciality guaranteed guarantees the traditional composition of the product or the traditional method of production or processing.

3. Which Vorarlberg specialities are protected?

Information on all protected specialities can be found in the DOOR-Datenbank (“Database of Origin and Registration“). A total of 14 food names are protected in Austria. Currently, two Austrian products are protected by the designation of origin – Vorarlberger Alpkäse and Bergkäse. This means that both the origin of the raw materials and the place of processing are precisely specified. With the “Montafoner Sura Kaes”, another cheese will soon be protected.

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 4. How can specialities be protected?

According to the European Union, the manufacturers of a speciality to be registered must join forces and specify their product in a specification sheet. The application must then be submitted to the competent national authority and will only be examined at European level after a positive decision has been taken. The prerequisite in any case is that the designation in question is protected in the country of origin.

5. What changes does TTIP bring to protected products?

A big problem here is perhaps the secrecy. Possible changes are not known, because the negotiations around TTIP are secret.

An interesting question is, how can it actually be, when politicians are on the road on behalf of the people, that secrecy takes place behind closed doors on the essential topic of food?

At present, however, neither the Austrian envoy Gertraud Fischinger of the Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU nor Peter Stangl of the Austrian Patent Office assumes that the transatlantic treaty will mean the end of protected trademarks. “It will be the case that the European regulation will have to be complied with, it cannot be annulled”, Fischinger is convinced. The Patent Office emphasises that the quality labels can also prescribe the place of production. It is therefore not permitted to sell Vorarlberger Bergkäse made in the USA.

6. Is Vorarlberg cheese such as mountain cheese now being copied worldwide?

Probably not, because local cheese is a product from and for the region. The EU quality marks will continue to apply in the European Union in the future, but they could only be copied in the United States of America.

Champagne from California or Black Forest ham from US cattle can already be found in the USA – both unthinkable in Europe. Stangl even expects TTIP to improve this situation. In this way, the protection of certain brands could be extended to the other market. In this case, for example, the designation “Vorarlberger Bergkäse” would be protected both in Europe and in the USA.

Criticism and articles on the TIPP Free Trade Agreement

» zeit.de – Interview with Klaus Mueller from the consumer advice centre

» zeit.de – TTIP could end protection of regional products

» zeit.de – Dispute over protection of regional specialities

» greenpeace.org – All areas of life would be affected

» spiegel.de – Various reports on the transatlantic free trade agreement

» faz.net – EU publishes original TTIP documents

» salzburg.com – Austria can stop free trade agreement

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