New Zealand-produced 'feta' will have to find new name under EU free trade agreement

Cheese produced in New Zealand branded as 'feta' will have to find another name under the free trade agreement (FTA) the Government has just secured with the European Union.

The deal includes what are referred to as geographic indications (GI), which are names of products unique to a certain area that a country or market wants to protect.

It's a component of the trade agreement particularly important to the EU, which sent New Zealand a list of 2200 product names in 2018 that it wanted to protect.

With a FTA now secured, the Government says the main terms affected are "sherry", "port" and "feta", which is a traditional Greek cheese.

That means New Zealand-produced cheese that is currently labelled as 'feta' will need to be branded as something different, but makers will have nine years to sort this out. Locally produced 'feta' won't be disappearing from the shelves overnight.

New Zealand has its own GIs included in the deal. The EU's agreed to protect 23 New Zealand wines, including those labelled as being produced in Marlborough and Central Otago.

"Trade negotiations are not just about what you gain access for, and for New Zealand $1.8 million worth of access for us is significant, but it's also what you protect," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after announcing FTA negotiations had concluded on Friday.

"The asks of New Zealand was significant. Things like patent extension that would have meant considerable increase in costs for pharmaceutical products, we pushed hard against that."

New Zealand also sought a "grandparenting clause" for locally produced 'parmesan' and 'gruyere'. What this means is that existing producers can continue to use the terms, but anyone entering the market will have to find new terms.

"When you think about the long list of GIs, that was the ask of the EU on us," Ardern said. "In return, for some relatively minor changes, we have $1.8 billion worth of trading opportunities."

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor confirmed on Friday morning that other cheeses, like camembert and gouda, are unaffected.

But Daniel Shields, a New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association board member, said New Zealand's bowed to EU pressure on GIs. He said the loss of the name 'feta' was of particular concern.

"This creates uncertainty and makes it hard for New Zealand operators to invest in their businesses with confidence when the threat of a loss of equity in the intellectual property of traditional cheese names looms."

Chair Catherine McNamara worried that other cheese names may end up being discussed as GIs in the future.

"It creates an uncertain environment for New Zealand specialist cheesemakers.  We are now calling on the government to support industry and to work with us to create a New Zealand naming system which can be protected and invested in."

Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand said the loss of rights to 'feta' and the deal preventing new business developments for 'parmesan' and 'gruyere' is a "significant blow".

The landmark NZ-EU deal is expected to grow export revenue by $1.8 billion annually once fully implemented, save exporters about $110 million per annum due to tariff elimination, and eliminate tariffs for the likes of kiwifruit, onions, and mānuka honey. However, the access given to the meat industry has come under fire.

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