Why the EU wants to change our cheese
By Richard Harman (author)
It may soon be time for our cheesemakers to stop making Feta, Parmesan, Camembert, Mozzarella or Brie or other cheeses with European place names as their names.
Instead, they will have to find uniquely New Zealand names.
The names are likely to be one the first casualties of the New Zealand – European Union Free Trade Agreement.
Negotiations on the agreement were launched in Wellington yesterday by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malström and Trade Minister David Parker.
One of the most contentious issues will be what the EU calls “geographic indicators” which are place names that are used to identify specific European food or wines.
New Zealand already has an agreement with the EU which stops New Zealand producers using names like Burgundy (Pinot Noir) or Champagne (Sparking wine)
New Zealand in turn last year passed legislation to enforce the EU agreement.
But extending it to cheese is more complex.
“Commissioner Malström was making the point that one of the issues in contention may be geographic indicators,” Parker told a media conference yesterday.
“There is a lot of technical detail that lies in there depending on the breadth of those which are at issue.
“Commissioner Malström asked me and the negotiators to start addressing those difficult issues early so that they don’t come up as a delay at the end of the negotiations.
“I think that indicates willingness on the part of the European side of the negotiation which we share in New Zealand to bring this to a conclusion as soon as we can.”
Parker said he hoped the negotiation could be finished for the whole agreement in two years.
But if that is one contentious issue, a much more difficult one is likely to be agriculture which has been the origin of most of New Zealand's frequent often-tortured negotiations with the EU since 1972.
The EU runs a quota and subsidy internal system called the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which coupled with hard border tariffs and quotas severely restricts New Zealand’s meat and dairy produce from entry into Europe.
Sir Robert Muldoon once called the CAP "economic lunacy", and successive New Zealand Prime Ministers have lambasted it but to this day it remains a lynchpin, particularly in France, of domestic politics because it preserves farming and farmers.
However, in recent years the EU has shown some signs of relaxing some of the more stringent CAP policies.
"We have done some very ambitious reforms in our CAP agricultural policy," Malström said at the launch.
"There is a sensitivity in certain areas in Europe in certain products not only vis a vis New Zealand, but in general in trade agreements, we have been very aware of them.
“I think we have been open to the Minister and his team about where those sensitivities are but of course we enter the negotiations to give and take.
“I’m not in a position today to outline where we will land obviously.
“But we know the defensive interests of New Zealand; there are some offensive ones as well, and they are aware of ours.
“But we are very well prepared.
"We have spent a lot of time going through the different elements and the parameter of the negotiations."
This meant the negotiating teams would be able to get going quickly, she said.
But it is now clear that one related negotiation with the EU has stalled. This is over the so-called tariff rate quotas which would govern how much lamb New Zealand could export to the EU.
These have to be renegotiated and split up because the large quantity of New Zealand lamb that goes to the UK will have to be separately accounted for once Brexit has taken place.
Parker confirmed that he had discussed the quotas with Malström.
“We have received papers from the European Union as to a proposal as to how they would resolve it,” he said.
"We've made the point that we think that would be prejudicial to the interests of New Zealand.
"We have a counter-proposal, and it's for our officials to work through that.”
Parker said New Zealand wanted to maintain some flexibility as to how its exports were distributed "on a basis that might differ from year to year."
“The proposal that has come forward is less flexible than we would like.”
The situation in Europe is complex with substantial quantities of New Zealand lamb entering Europe via ports like Rotterdam and then being transhipped to Britain.
At the same time, sheepmeat exports to Britain have been declining as other markets like China have offered better prices.
But if the TRQ issue pointed to the reality of the trade negotiations ahead, Parker was also focussed on another potential problem, and that was the resistance to free trade agreements within New Zealand.
And he had to confess to Malström that his slogan for his campaign to sell the benefits of trade --- “Trade for all” – had in fact, been stolen from a similar campaign that she presided over within the EU.
She didn’t seem to mind.
"New Zealand is a friend and ally, and together we stand for common values as expressed in trade for all," she said.
And then she made a subtle dig at President Trump and his trade war with China.
“And also the values of sustainable trade, open trade, transparent trade and trade that is done in compliance with international rules in the multilateral system.
“And we know today that that is put into question.”
In many ways it was like the 1970s and 1980s all over again; New Zealand going tin o trade negotiations with the EU but the big difference this time is that though the EU is New Zealand’s third biggest trading partner we are no longer so heavily dependent on it as we were when our major export market for all our primary production was the UK.