U.S. and EU settle food fight in anti-counterfeit pact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and European Union have reached a compromise over the use of prestigious geographical food names like Champagne and Parma, clearing one of the last obstacles to an international pact to battle the growing trade in counterfeit goods.

“We found the solution even on that toughest of issues,” a U.S. trade official told Reuters, referring to a deal struck over the weekend in Tokyo on the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement between nearly 40 countries.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated that global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods rose to about $250 billion in 2007 from roughly $100 billion annually in 2000.

One of the last issues resolved in talks stemmed from a long-running battle between the United States and the EU over the right to use European place names, like Champagne, Parma or Roquefort, for some of the world’s most popular foods and beverages.

American business groups worried that the EU’s demand to cover “geographical indicators” in the pact could mean U.S. products as commonplace as Kraft parmesan cheese could be treated as illegal items and subject to customs seizures.

EU companies were concerned that “sui generis” protections for geographical indicators outside of the trademark system would not have the same status under the pact as other intellectual property.

“Essentially, the core of the compromise is ... that parties should provide border measures without discriminating between various IP rights,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

“The EU didn’t want there to be a situation created where you’re discriminating in favor of trademarks, that trademarks get better protection than these sui generis GI regimes.

“So, they were able to take comfort from the principle that a party should not discriminate between intellectual property rights and that parties should avoid creating barriers to legitimate trade,” he said.

The United States and the EU have also been battling over geographical indicators in the Doha Round of world trade talks, so the deal in Tokyo may not be the final word on the subject.

The U.S. official said the text of the proposed agreement could be released as early as Wednesday.

The United States hopes that process will move quickly, so that the countries that participated in the talks can make a final decision whether to sign the pact or not, the U.S. official said.

The talks involved the United States, the EU and its 27 member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and two developing countries, Morocco and Mexico, which together have agreed to take a stand against the growing global trade in fake and pirated goods.

“Here you have a group of countries representing a very substantial part of global trade saying we are not willing to look the other way from this challenge. We’re going to confront it head on with stronger laws, stronger cooperation and stronger enforcement actions,” the U.S. official said.

China, the source of much of world’s counterfeit goods production, was not a party to the talks.

Digital rights and public health advocates have closely watched the talks, which some have feared could infringe on the rights of Internet users or disrupt trade in generic versions of life-saving medicines.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson