Mexico and Spain must resolve cheese labeling dispute to reach EU trade deal

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Mexico and the EU have settled on the labeling of 30 of the 57 cheese names on the EU's GI protection list.  ©GettyImages/Golden_Brown
Mexico and the EU have settled on the labeling of 30 of the 57 cheese names on the EU's GI protection list. ©GettyImages/Golden_Brown

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Mexico and Spain are at odds over the labeling of Manchego cheese, one of the 57 cheese names the EU has included in its geographical indicator (GI) protection proposal.

Many cheese producers in Spain have argued that Mexican-made Manchego cannot be labeled as such because the term “Manchego”​ is a protected name that should only apply to cheese made from sheep’s milk in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, unlike the Mexican-made Manchego that uses cow’s milk or a combination of both.

"Mexico has to stop this fraud. They’ve been doing it for years and simply ignoring all warnings,”​ Ismael Álvarez de Toledo, president of the Spanish Brotherhood of Manchego Cheese, told UK newspaper The Telegraph​.

“Manchego is the Rolex of the cheese world, the most imitated and the most abused.”

Spain has its own certification system, the Manchego Cheese Designation of Origin, to ensure authenticity and is used by 750 farmers and 63 cheese makers. Verified Manchego cheese production totals 14,000 tons per year with 60% sold to export, primarily to the US market who consumes 2,000 tons per year.

The Manchego certifying organization added that it exported a “non-significant”​ amount (40 to 50 tons) to Mexico in 2016.

Trade deal hindrance

The two countries’ battle over certain cheese names may stall a potential trade deal between the EU and Mexico, negotiations that began in May 2016.

Establishing a trade deal with the EU became more of a priority for Mexico as a way to diversify its trade partnerships outside of NAFTA and reduce its reliance on the US.

The EU has a list of 57 European cheese varieties on its GI protection list, reaching agreement on the continued labeling of Mexican-made brie, Camembert, Gouda, and mozzarella, according to the president of the National Chamber of the Dairy Industry (Canilec), Miguel Ángel García Paredes.

García Paredes said that Mexico wishes to keep using the remaining names such as Manchego and Parmesan as they have become generic terms among Mexican consumers, who he claims are able to tell the difference between Mexican-made Manchego and Manchego from Spain.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that more work needs to be done between the EU and Mexico but they “are very close to a deal, but not really there yet.”

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