Branding feta cheese and gruyere could be banned in Australia – Simon Birmingham

Australia is gearing up for a fight with the European Union over the naming of hundreds of products including feta, gruyere and scotch beef as negotiations continue over an “ambitious” free trade agreement.

The trade minister, Simon Birmingham, has released a list of names the EU wants protected as part of the new trade deal – known as “geographical indications” or GIs – which are aimed at protecting European products.

The issue is of major concern to Australian cheesemakers who face the prospect of not being able to use terms such as feta, gruyere and gorgonzola to name their products.

Birmingham said he was prepared to drive a “hard bargain” as Australia inched closer to a deal with the EU, but said if it was successful producers would gain access to a lucrative market of 500 million consumers.

“Australia doesn’t like the idea of geographical indications but this is a not-negotiable element from the European Union,” Birmingham told the ABC on Tuesday morning.

“We will put up a strong fight in terms of areas of Australian interests and ultimately what we’re trying to do is get the best possible deal that ensures Australian businesses and farmers can get better access to a market engaging 500 million potential consumers.”

He said the FTA deal would only be inked if “overall” it was in Australia’s interests to do so.

The EU’s list of proposed names includes many obscure beers, spirits, cheeses and meats, with most of the names linked to their geographic area of provenance.

While the terms brie and camembert are not included, specific names such as Brie de Meaux and Camembert de Normandie are.

There had been some concern among producers that prosciutto might also be listed, but the EU has suggested only that Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele and Prosciutto Toscano be specifically protected.

Geographic indicators for the wine industry have already been negotiated, meaning a push from Italy and the EU for the use of the name prosecco to be restricted in the same way as champagne will not form part of the FTA negotiation.

Birmingham said Europe had already allowed Australia to use the term prosecco under a previous agreement, and the industry had consequently made investment and marketing decisions.

“Our view is that we negotiated over those wine terms all those years ago and there’s no need to reopen them,” Birmingham said.

The EU is already Australia’s second largest trading partner and third largest export destination, with two-way goods and services trade last year valued at $109bn.

Consultation is now under way on the GI list. Birmingham said feedback from the Australian public would help the government make its case in the trade negotiations.