EURACTIV — Farmers in Greece are concerned about the fate of feta cheese in EU trade agreements with third countries after the EU failed to fully protect the iconic product in the CETA free trade deal with Canada.
Feta cheese is considered the “white gold” of Greece’s economy. The country produces around 120,000 tons of feta every year, while the total domestic production of sheep and goat milk is about 1,100,000 tons.
Currently, the country exports approximately 500 tons of feta to Canada yearly. After the trade deal between the Brussels and Ottawa, Canadian companies can continue to produce and market ‘Canadian feta’ in their country.
The CETA agreement protects more than 140 geographical indications from all over Europe. But in the case of feta – as well as Asiago, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Munster cheeses – Canadians can produce and sell their “own feta” in the domestic market.
Once CETA comes into force, Canadian producers will be obliged to add information such as ‘kind’, ‘type’, ‘style’ or ‘imitation’ to their labels, combined with an easily legible and visible indication of the geographical origin of the product in question.
“No ‘Greek feta’ or ‘Greek style feta’ or Greek flags will be allowed to Canadian producers,” socialist MEP Eva Kaili pointed out.
On the other hand, Greek companies that produce genuine feta will be able to export to Canada.
But feta is made with sheep’s milk (70%) and goat’s milk (30%). Greek farmers are worried that with the CETA agreement, Canadians will be able to produce and sell feta made from cow’s milk and inundate the market with cow’s milk feta.
In an effort to calm down angry Greek farmers, Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan promised to review the case of feta after five years. However, Greeks fear this would already be too late.
Future trade deals
In addition, Greek breeders fear that CETA will set a precedent that will enable other countries to demand a similar deal for feta. This is already the case with South Africa.
In a statement earlier this month (11 July) the Greek government stressed that it had launched a campaign to revise the deals affecting the “national cheese” and emphasised that in a trade deal with Japan, feta will be better protected.
Sources from the Greek ministry of agriculture told EURACTIV that from now on, the government will try on to use the deal with Japan as a “role model” for future EU trade agreements with third countries.