A product called I Can’t Believe It’s Not Feta! — or Gorgonzola or Parmesan — soon may be arriving on American store shelves if European negotiators prevail during negotiations on a proposed free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.
The rub, according to the European delegation, is that American cheese manufacturers are cutting into their business and, purportedly, sullying the image of European regional cheeses.
After all, how can parmesan be parmesan if it isn’t made in the area around Parma, Italy? Also, feta, it seems, should only come from Greece, even though, unlike parmesan, feta doesn’t really come from a specific place.
In all, according to the Associated Press, the EU may seek to, “restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses, possibly including parmesan, asiago, gorgonzola, feta, fontina, grana, gruyare, muenster, neufchatel and romano.”
Canada recently assented to similar terms to get its own free trade agreement settled with Europe. Now, Canadian-made cheeses will have to carry names like “fetalike” or “feta-style” and are barred from using any symbolism that might evoke a Greek connection.
This editorial page has traditionally been, and continue to be, supporters of these types of agreements as a means to open the door to free trade. However, examples like these remind that so-called free-trade agreements all too often are not that free.
In fact, they often increase restrictions, such as in the current case of cheese names, to coddle and protect certain preferred industries for dubious reasons, for instance, national pride.
After all, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the most famous of these treaties, contained significant restrictions and tariff quotas on agricultural products to protect American producers from Canadian competition — and to deny consumers the lower prices and greater selection that free trade in those industries would have almost certainly brought.
The U.S. delegation has so far remained firm on the question of cheese names, likely because the dairy industry is a coddled industry here in its own right. However, conversations like these simply wouldn’t be occurring under truly free trade.
Instead, trade restrictions continue only to benefit powerful lobbies by protecting oligopolistic profits. After all, there doesn’t seem to be much of a demand from consumers to be protected from the flood of more affordable goods on store shelves that an even more liberalized system of trade would bring.
Further, restrictions like this don’t even really seem to work. Despite a requirement that champagne only be called champagne if it was bottled in the Champagne region of France, a cheaper Italian “sparkling wine” substitute, Prosecco, became the world’s most purchased sparkling wine in 2013.
While opening markets, even a little, to greater international competition presents sizeable benefits to consumers, current free trade agreements are just the start for a larger push at truly liberalizing international trade.
— From the Orange County Register