Brie, Chablis, Feta, Parmiggiano, European producers are calling for their names to be respected in the Free Trade Agreement between Europe and the United States (TAFTA), a hotly debated point in the negotiations that resumed last week in New York.
L’Appellation d'origine for a producer, it's a bit like family jewels: don't touch! The idea of seeing these local treasures transformed into generic names turns their stomachs. But the notion of AOC (controlled origin) or AOP (protected), declined as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in the European Union, has no harmonised international recognition.
"In the United States, Brie or feta are generic names."says Paul Zindy, chargé de mission at CNAOL, the National Council for Dairy Designations of Origin. And the producers intend to leave it at that, if we are to believe the "CNAOL". Consortium for common food names« which denounces the EU's "attacks" on generic names.
According to Paul Zindy, the European Commission now has a "fairly strong position" on the subject: it has added to the Tafta negotiation protocol a list of around 200 products associated with their terroir, such as Comté or Tomme d'Abondance, but also (Belgian) ham from the Ardennes, Cypriot loukoums, Bavarian beer, a Hungarian salami, the Italian Grana Panado or Gorgonzola...
However, its adherence to the concept is recent, according to Mathias Fekl, Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and ardent defender of "terroir diplomacy". Before the Senate's Economic and Foreign Affairs Committees last month, Mr. Fekl was concerned about "blocked discussions" on the subject at the end of the 12th round of Tafta talks.
" If the negotiations were to lead to competition between two different agricultural and food models, ours would not stand up to it.« He warned that the agricultural surface area of France, Europe's leading agricultural nation, equals 8% of the 375 million hectares of American farmland.
For behind the apparent folklore of the Appellations, misunderstood across the Atlantic, there is a real commercial battle going on. « The geographical name is first of all an element of authentication of the productions. Behind the products, which represent jobs and foreign currency for export, it is also a concept of the social and environmental organisation of territories, which by definition cannot be relocated.« says Jean-Luc Darrien, director of the INAO, the institute that manages the appellations.
Californian champagne and burgundy
In 2014 in France, products sold under the quality and origin sign accounted for 22 billion in turnover, including just over 16 billion for wines, according to the INAO.
" More than 95% of wines are produced in France under PGI and among them more than 95% of wines exported. "says Mr. Darrien again.
However, European producers are still burnt by a precedent with the United States: an agreement in 2005 authorised American winegrowers to use 17 "semi-generic" names associated with a location, for example "Californian champagne". This agreement thus concerned "sauternes", "burgundy", "chablis" but also "chianti", "cherry" or "port".
" The agreement provided for the eventual abandonment of these semi-generics in exchange for the use of traditional terms such as "Château" or "Clos"... Unfortunately, this second phase has never been applied.« explains Pascal Bobillier-Monnot, Director of the Confederation of Producers of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Wines and Brandies.
Result: " 53% of the volumes of effervescent whites sold in the US are American. Of which 75% are presented as "champagne" at less than $10. When real champagne, sold at around 30 dollars, reaches a ceiling of 10% on the market« . And every attempt to return to the subject since 2009 has failed, notes Bobillier-Monnot. « The Americans just didn't keep the deal. Point"
According to Paul Zindy, however, Napa Valley winemakers understand the value of a geographical name and have joined the global GI network, "Origin".
But the American dairy lobby, on the other hand, is mobilising to counter the list of 200 designations that the EU wants to protect. Their argument: " we're a nation of immigrants, a cultural melting pot. This know-how is also ours, that of our ancestors."