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Transatlantic partnership/food system/protection of geographical indications

Published on March 6, 2015
Joint article by M. Matthias Fekl, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, and M. Stéphane Le Foll, Minister of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry, in the daily newspaper Le Figaro

Paris, March 5, 2015

In the face of Washington, the identity of our native soil will be protected

Around the world, France is unanimously recognized for the quality of its food products. The French system was built on diversity and high health standards, which have guaranteed its excellence. The system has also been able to evolve to incorporate the demands of sustainability: the need to protect natural resources which are running out, the requirement to protect our countryside from desertification, and responses to society’s legitimate expectations. After the Paris International Agricultural Show closed its doors last Sunday, tribute must be paid to the men and women who make our products excellent, because they are the passionate ambassadors of France’s image.

The role of our economic diplomacy is to highlight the benefits of this agricultural system in order to promote and defend it. Trade with our partners throughout the world is not solely a matter of exchanging goods and services: it is about world views encountering and sometimes clashing with one another. The trade negotiations under way with the United States, in the framework of the transatlantic partnership, are no exception to that rule.

French and European standards, which guarantee our food’s traceability from field to plate, are the result of collective choices expressed by citizens in a democratic framework. This determination of citizens to decide on their own food is a reflection of our identity. It is why we refused point blank to allow our food system to be part of the negotiations: the European market will remain closed to chlorinated chicken and hormone beef. We will not give in when it comes to the high level of environmental, social and health protection or in the area of animal welfare, because those factors are central to the French and European system.

This approach also applies to the protection of our geographical indications. Our duty is to fight to secure better recognition of the value of our products around the world.
In the trade negotiations, France is highlighting the excellence of its know-how and the quality of its products by demanding that our partners recognize and protect products registered as geographical indications. What is special about geographical indications is that they protect the distinct identity of a product by linking it to a native soil and an often centuries-old method of production. Europe does not have the exclusive right to the geographical indications system. Moreover, we recognize some indications from other countries around the world, and are increasing the number of cooperative actions in this area.

In the system of commercial brands, widespread in the English-speaking world, there is no equivalent for this protection of our products. Even if we can make these two systems coexist, as has always been the case in Europe, we will not sacrifice our geographical indications for the benefit of a few multinational firms.

Along with South Korea, Central America, Peru, Colombia and – more recently – Canada, we have been able to ensure our main geographical indications are recognized and protected. So Agen prunes, Roquefort, Bayonne ham and numerous wines will henceforth benefit from a legal framework enabling them to combat appropriation and false representation. We must continue along this path.

France is an age-old agricultural land. Its landscapes have been shaped by people working the soil and breeding livestock. The beauty of our country, which makes it the world’s leading tourist destination, owes a great deal to this work of centuries, and to a favourable natural environment. We must also maintain this heritage by encouraging forms of tourism that are still insufficiently widespread. In the area of wine – a true product of civilization – we are developing wine tourism, for example.
For the past month, in Champagne as elsewhere, at the government’s instigation, a whole industry has been building a coherent gastronomic tourism offer. Other avenues have yet to be explored, like agricultural tourism, which will give French farmers additional sources of activity in future. Our countryside is not withdrawing in on itself but aspiring to greater things. As it opens up to the world, it can count on our diplomatic service./.

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