The European Union has countered US claims that the WTO has sided with the US over geographically-linked products.

US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick had claimed yesterday (22 December) that a World Trade Organisation panel had agreed that the European rules on "geographical indications" were discriminatory.

But a spokeswoman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: "Contrary to Mr. Zoellick, we do not see in the panel's conclusions a threat to the European system of protection for geographical indications.

"The panel concluded that co-existence between geographical indications and trademarks is perfectly in conformity with WTO rules," the spokeswoman continued.

There was nothing in the EU system to prevent European recognition of geographically protected goods from other countries, she added.

"We look forward to requests for geographical indication from third countries and in particular the US," she told reporters. "To date, we haven't received any demand for registering from the US."

The spokeswoman also said the EU executive "regretted" Zoellick's disclosure of the WTO ruling, saying all parties were supposed to respect its confidentiality until it was published next March.

Under a 1992 law, the EU requires that other countries protect European geographical indications including Parma ham and Champagne or face losing EU recognition for their own regional goods.