Cheesemakers in blue over Euro trade deal

Australian food and drink producers have been given the chance to vent about a push from the European Union (EU) that would force them to re-badge some of their products.

The EU wants protections for food and drink brands in its region, under a proposed free-trade deal with Australia. Were it successful, Australian feta-makers could be forced to refer to their cheese as “Australian feta” and local spirit distillers would need to avoid using the term “Scotch”.

Packaging might also need to be changed for some Australian products, such as mozzarella cheese, so it doesn’t look too similar to European brands.

Trade minister Simon Birmingham said there is no guarantee the deal will go ahead.

“We will only do with a deal with the EU if it’s in Australia’s national interest to do so,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday. “What we will do is drive the best possible bargain.”

The federal government will consult with industries likely to be impacted by the changes over the next three months. Senator Birmingham expects they won’t be concerned about many of the 400-odd terms the EU has taken issue with – given their specificity – but will struggle with others.

“There are some that are a bit more generic of their nature, such as feta, and I think we will have to work hard, negotiate hard with the EU.”

Sheree Sullivan, CEO and part-owner of Adelaide Hills-based cheese producer Udder Delights, said the industry would work together on new branding should the proposal pass.

“I look to champagne and it’s happened before,” she said. “When it did, the producers were probably really horrified, but they’ve come out in a really great place.”

Sullivan said a 12-to-24 month grace period should be observed if the reform goes ahead, allowing time for the national body to develop a strategy and for producers to clear label stocks.

“We are all in it together,” she said. “If it was just my business I’d be a bit stressed, but everyone would be dealing with the same thing.”

But labor frontbencher Jason Clare expects dairy farmers will be “on edge” about the proposed changes.

“They will have to work through all of those difficult issues on that list,” he told Sky News.

The EU is already Australia’s second-largest trading partner, third-largest export destination and second-largest services export market with potentially 500 million customers. Senator Birmingham expects negotiations will wrap up next year.

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