The US has said it has prevailed in its case at the World Trade Organisation against the EU regarding protection given to geographic food names known as “geographical indications”.

Geographical indications (GIs) are geographic names that have a particular association with a product, such as Parma ham and Roquefort cheese.

The WTO panel agreed with the US that the EU’s GI Regulation discriminates against US products and producers and is therefore contrary to WTO rules.

“This is a big win for American farmers and food processors. We brought this case because we believed that, under WTO rules, US farmers, ranchers, and other food producers should have the same access to protection for ‘geographical indications’ as European food producers. Europe clearly failed to provide this access,” said US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Whereas the US offers geographical indication protection as part of its trademark system, Europe has a special regulatory regime for geographical indications, separate and apart from its trademark system. The US claimed the EU regulations discriminated against US GIs and failed to protect US trademarks.

The US was concerned that, for instance, while producers of Parma ham in Italy can stop others from using the name Parma or similar names in the EU market, the GI Regulation would not permit US producers to do the same with respect to their products. Second, the US said it was concerned that the EU GI Regulation would not permit trademark owners to enforce their trademarks, specifically that US companies would be unable to protect the trademarks of their European products if the language of the trademark was similar to a European GI. The WTO panel found that the GI Regulation could only protect GI names as registered, and not linguistic variations of the GIs.

“We also welcome the panel’s findings that protecting GIs need not and should not harm the rights of trademark owners. These findings are important to the rights of US companies protecting their trademarks in Europe,” Zoellick said.