Imitation products and fakes weight down on Italy’s possibility to export its products. As the USA don’t want PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) laws to be involved, the delicate matter of Free Trade agreements is being discussed.
Between full-on fake products and the phenomenon known as “Italian sounding” (where products or brands are named to resemble Italian products while not being such) the most recent estimates have counted an earning loss equal to 60 billion euros for our agro industrial business for what concerns missed exportations, which is about twice as much as our current exportation to the rest of the world.
The main concern is protecting the uniqueness of our PGI productions and the growth, value and potential of our products with a Registered Designation of Origin, and in order to do so we have to resort to legal action for fakes and frauds (if they are discovered, especially abroad) but also to legislation between countries and complex business agreements, such as the one that is long being discussed between Europe and the USA, the dreaded TTIP (Transatlantic Treaty of International Partnership).
This treaty should create a free exchange zone between UE countries and the United States, and the matter of protecting European geographic designations of origin is one of the chapters included in the document.
The problem lays in the fact that the USA don’t understand and don’t intend to safeguard designations such as “DOP” and “IGP” (Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication) because the only products they value are commercially registered brands, property of private companies.
The USA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has explicitly admitted that the USA main concern is that protecting European designations of origin would damage certain star-spangled productions, now long on the market (such as “Parmesan” or “Wisconsin’s Asiago cheese”). These productions take part in the “Italian sounding” phenomenon, which tricks the consumer into thinking the product is originally Italian when it has nothing to do with the country, both in origin, taste and quality.
The American “Consortium for common food names” is a powerful lobby, for the most part made of 2nd, 3rd generation Italian-Americans producers that are keen on protecting their own businesses. According to European laws, a cheese can be sold as Parmigiano Reggiano or vinegar as Aceto Balsamico di Modena only so long as it has the trademark attesting its origin, else it must be recalled, and this makes the clash with USA dupes all the more radical.
Negotiations will continue, some say it will come to terms by the end of 2016, or with the next President succeeding Obama. Our producers are giving their undivided attention to the matter but, as a part of UE committees, the protection of DOP and IGP trademarks is a priority only for Italy and few more countries.
The best chance to push the negotiations forward would be to press on the matter of openness with the consumers, a matter that the USA cares a lot about. Guaranteeing that fully transparent information is provided to the consumers would allow original productions to be told apart from dupes and fakes.