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brSchumer Pushes Two-Pronged Plan in Support of Upstate Cheese Producers: First, Senator Urges Ambassador Froman and Secretary Vilsack to Defend US Cheese Producers Against EU Attempts to Trademark Cheese NamesbrbrbrSecond, Schumer Supports USDA Grant Application by Cornell for Funds to Provide Training Technical Expertise to Small Dairy FarmersbrbrbrSchumer: Muenster is Muenster, No Matter How you Slice Itbrbr

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer visited McCadam Farms in Franklin County to announce his twopronged plan to first defend, and second to grow, Upstate New York cheese production. Specifically, Schumer is urging United States Trade Representative Froman and Secretary Vilsack to defend U.S. cheese producers in trade negotiations with the European Union (EU), which is staking a regional claim on common cheese names like "muenster", "parmesan" and "feta"-much like champagne. Through free trade agreements with other countries, the EU is seeking to prevent cheese producers from exporting their products with these common cheese names, including exporting them with "style" or "type" after the name.  Schumer argued that this would be a huge hit to upstate dairy farmers who export cheese and must be prevented in trade negotiations at all costs.

In addition, Schumer announced his support for Cornell's recent application for a USDA SARE (Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education) grant.  Schumer explained that one of the biggest challenges facing the cheese producing industry is a lack of technical expertise and assistance.  The grant would speak directly to that need by providing funding to Cornell, which has a partnership with Wegmans, to provide training and technical expertise to local participating dairy farmers.  The CornellWegmans partnership owns an aging cave where they teach dairy farmers how to make and age cheese, and in turn, Wegmans plans to purchase some of these products for market.

"Cheese production is a growing industry in Franklin County and Upstate New York, but right now it faces a major threat from free trade agreements that could place geographic restrictions on cheese labeling," said Schumer.  "That's why I'm urging Ambassador Froman to hold nothing back when negotiating on behalf of U.S. cheese producers-because Muenster is Muenster, no matter how you slice it.  I am also throwing my weight behind Cornell's application for a USDA grant that would provide the training and technical assistance our dairy farmers need to develop profitable cheese products.  If we can protect the cheese industry from harmful and unfair free trade deals, we have a real opportunity to grow the industry in Upstate New York from farm to market."

"It is entirely unreasonable for producers in one region of the world to try to seize the sole right to use names that long ago entered into broadspread international usage. USDEC is devoted to battling this unfair commercial share grab by the EU and appreciates Senator Schumer's recognition of the danger this poses to the continued growth of New York's dairy industry," said Shawna Morris, VP, Trade Policy, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

Over the past few years, New York has seen a rapid increase in the number of small cheese producers. Cheese is the largest manufacturing commodity in New York including 127 licensed cheese makers in the state. Schumer explained that for small dairy farmers, cheese can be a crucial avenue for supplementary income, because it can be sold for 3 to 4 times the value of fluid milk.  In addition, New York is home to large cheese producers like AgriMark and Sorrento.

Standing at McCadam Farms after touring the facilities, Schumer highlighted two forces that could potentially hold back Upstate dairy farmers.  Schumer explained that, in recent trade negotiations, the EU has been trying to claim cheese names based on geographic locations, in the same way that the EU has argued that champagne can only be sold as 'champagne' if produced in the Champagne region of France.  Among the labels sought by EU are: muenster, feta, parmesan, fontina, gorgonzola and others.

Schumer warned that if the EU succeeds in claiming those names, New York producers will no longer be able to export cheeses with their current names.  They would have to export the cheese under a different name, which would significantly devalue the product, or forego the sales entirely. Currently, the EU is in negotiations with many Latin American and Asian nations, and any agreement on labeling could prevent U.S. exporters from selling to those countries using the "trademarked" names.

Even more troubling, the EU is also in negotiations with the U.S. for the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). If the EU were to successfully claim geographic names of cheeses in TTIP, companies would be suddenly forbidden from using names that have long been generic here in the U.S. This would have significant negative impacts on businesses in New York as well as ramifications with other trading partners. Schumer vowed that he would fight against any such agreement in the TTIP, and wrote Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Froman, urging the USDA and USTR to make this issue a top priority in negotiations.  

Schumer also pointed to the challenge of small dairy farmers, who lack the training or technical expertise to get cheese production up and running.  To address this need, Schumer announced his support for Cornell's application for a USDA SARE grant to fund the training of dairy farmers who want to start producing cheese.  Cornell is currently in a partnership with Wegmans, who together own an aging cave.  The grant would allow small dairy farmers in the region to receive training from Cornell experts on cheese production and aging, with the intent of selling that product at Wegmans.

"Cornell's agricultural programs are among the best resources our small farmers could ask for, and this particular USDA SARE grant is no exception," Schumer continued.  "I plan to put on the full court press on their behalf-to get them the investment they need to develop a unique cooperative between dairy farmers and their customers, a pipeline for NY cheese from farm to market."

A copy of Senator Schumer's letters to the USDA and USTR appear below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Froman:

Increasingly, U.S. companies are facing barriers to trade imposed on them from an overly expansive approach by the European Union to geographical indication (GI) regulations. In a growing number of markets around the world, the EU has been working to confiscate the use of many commonlyused food names, largely through commitments on GIs in their Free Trade Agreements. This issue threatens the continued growth of our state's highquality cheesemaking, particularly by small and mediumsized firms, and takes on heightened importance with the launch of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.

The EU's approach takes a reasonable concept too far and as a result actively restricts reasonable competition. As an example, in just the past decade, use by nonEuropeans of the terms "parmesan" and "feta", along with several other common cheese names, has been outlawed within the EU. In addition, the EU now uses its FTA negotiations to try to extend these restrictions to many of our major export markets as well. The EU's preferred approach to GIs bans any use of a registered GI, even if it is accompanied by "style" or "type". This is despite longstanding production of these and other types of cheeses in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, often as a result of waves of immigration from Europe to the "New World" over the past century.

We appreciate USTR and USDA's work on this difficult issue. In particular, discussions with Korea in 2011 resulted in a very helpful written assurance regarding the continued ability of U.S. companies to ship many products to Korea. That communication helped limit the impairment of the market access package in the U.S.Korea FTA that could otherwise have resulted. This is the sort of concrete action that we urge you to undertake with other U.S. trading partners as well, particularly those with which the U.S. already has a preexisting FTA. The need for immediate action along these lines is most pressing currently in Central America where press reports surfaced in July regarding the EU's intention to put its agreement with certain countries in the region on hold simply because they are evaluating the generic nature of several terms the EU has sought to monopolize such as fontina, gorgonzola and parmesan. Threats such as this to our market access are deeply concerning, particularly given our prior FTA with these countries.

As deep a concern as this poses to present and future U.S. exports, the prospect of the EU imposing new restrictions on competition in the U.S. market itself is simply unacceptable. Now that the U.S. and EU have embarked on trade agreement negotiations, the EU has expressed a very strong desire to include commitments on geographical indications (GIs) in TTIP. Given the EU's track record of using certain GIs as de facto trade barriers; however, we are very concerned that such discussions could impose new costs and constraints on U.S. companies, rather than focus on removing these growing barriers in the EU itself as well as in other foreign markets.

As TTIP proceeds we believe it is critical to keep in mind the High Level Working Group Report's goal of using this agreement to "substantially eliminate existing barriers to trade and investment". In keeping with this objective, any discussions on the issue of GIs must be focused on how to remove barriers to trade and competition. We look forward to working closely with you over the course of these negotiations to achieve that outcome.  



Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator