WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of their continued efforts to stand up for Connecticut dairy farmers, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and a bipartisan group of 20 other senators in urging the Office of the United States Trade Representative to protect American cheese producers and dairy farmers as the United States, Mexico, and Canada renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The senators called on United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer to reject the European Union’s (EU) unfair trade proposal that would impose inappropriate barriers to food labeling in Mexico that could harm Connecticut cheese exporters, processors, and dairy farmers. They emphasized that the EU’s proposal to require the use of geographic indicators – which are product names that can only be used for products from a specific geographic region – in Mexico would prevent the American farmers from labeling their products with common food names – such as “feta,” “muenster,” or “parmesan” – and hamper the ability of Connecticut cheese producers to compete with EU companies on a level playing field.
The senators wrote, “As you work to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we urge you to engage with your Mexican and Canadian counterparts to ensure that future trade policies do not limit export opportunities for American dairy farmers and processors. In light of Mexico’s proposed agreement with the EU, we are deeply concerned that American cheesemakers will be harmed by a reversal of their current access to the Mexican market, and will be denied the opportunity to sell products to Mexican consumers using common cheese product names that have been marketed for decades.”
On April 21, 2018, the EU and Mexico reached a trade agreement that grants European producers exclusive rights to use 340 food names, known as ‘geographical indications,’ in Mexico. Afterwards, media reports indicated that the agreement included many food names—most notably of cheeses—considered generic in the United States.
Mexico is the largest export destination for American cheese, accounting for around one third of the $1.3 billion in dairy products the United States exported to Mexico last year. If Mexico grants European cheese producers exclusive rights to use common cheese names, as reports indicate it has agreed to do, American producers could lose market share they have spent years developing.
After hearing directly from concerned dairy farmers and cheese producers throughout Connecticut, the Connecticut delegation led a similar letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative in 2016 around Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. Murphy is the author of the Local Cheese Promotion and Dairy Support Act – legislation to increase federal support and resources for small cheese producers in Connecticut and across the United States.
Along with Murphy, Blumenthal, Baldwin, and Toomey, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Claire McCaskill (D-Miss.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Miss.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
The full letter is available here.