Don’t stare at Brussels lest the Brussels stare back

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
14 May, 2021

The third column in our Insights newsletter is meant to be lighter. Something a bit wry or humorous – an amuse-bouche to close out the week.

And honest to God I intended to write something like that.

At the end of April, Radio New Zealand reported a bit of trouble in European trade negotiations. Europe’s Geographic Indications system might be dropped on us as part of the deal, restricting Kiwi cheesemakers against using European protected names, even here at home.

The system goes well beyond sensible restrictions against using place names in your product name when doing so would be confusing.

In 2019, they granted geographic indication protection to the name Havarti. Only Danish cheesemakers can use the word.

I had no clue that Havarti came from Denmark. The name sounded vaguely Scandinavian, but who could really tell?

So, I planned to make fun of the whole concept. I imagined exporting HavartiNZ to Europe while claiming that GorgoNZola had been ours all along because it has NZ in it. And wouldn’t it be fun to ban Italian growers of Chinese Gooseberries from using the term Kiwifruit?

But I thought I’d first check the EU databases.

The horror.

The Havarti regulation wasn’t just some swipe-of-a-pen thing in Brussels.

It was designated pursuant to Article 50(2)(a) of Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012, after opposition from Germany, Spain, the US Dairy Export Council and others, under Article 51(2) of the same regulation. There were series of letters back and forth in 2014, deadline extensions, submissions by opponents, assessment of the conflicting arguments by the Commission, submissions from Denmark demonstrating a reputational link between Denmark and ‘Havarti’ and more.

The 27-paragraph decision surely cost hundreds of hours of work. Each hour of work going into the decision was pure waste and destruction.

The database of geographic indications runs to thousands of entries, including places from outside the EU. 

Real people who could have led productive lives instead spend their time running the Geographic Indications system. Is it dozens of wasted lives? Hundreds?

Brussels would undoubtedly welcome New Zealand joining the system and pouring real resources into banning Italian growers from using the word Kiwifruit. It all works to the glory of the Brussels abyss.

I do not know what sorts of trauma counselling MFAT provides our trade officials. But I hope they have a great weekend. They are earning it.

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