Is it Roquefort if it is not from Roquefort, France? Is it Chianti if it is not from Chianti, Italy?
The EU says no, and has had laws for years reserving the use of many such geographic indications exclusively to farmers and producers in the associated places. But many countries outside the union have treated the terms as generic descriptions and allowed their own producers to use them freely, and, in some cases, even register them as trademarks.
Now the EU wants to enforce its rules about geographical indications worldwide, by way of the WTO talks on global agricultural trade.
Cut to cancun
Arancha Gonzalez, the spokeswoman for the EU's trade office, said on Friday that a list of some of the best-known and most prestigious geographic indications would be presented at the talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September.
The 15 member governments are still reviewing the draft list. But Roquefort and Chianti are on it, according to an AP report, so are Gorgonzola, Mozzarella di Bufala Campagna, Neufchatel and Pecorino Romano cheeses, among others. And the draft list includes at least 20 types of wines and spirits, including Bordeaux, Chablis, Champagne, Cognac, Marsala, Madeira, Medoc, Moselle, Porto, Rhin, Rioja, Sauternes and Sherry.
The main targets of the EU's efforts to restrict use of the names are countries like the US, Canada, Australia and Argentina -- "countries that have been peopled by Europeans," Gonzalez said -- where it is commonplace for products made in the styles of the old-country regions to bear their names.
The issue is a small side one to the agricultural trade talks, whose main task is to begin dismantling the web of tariffs, quotas and other barriers that many governments use to protect local farmers from foreign competition and to reduce the subsidies that now involve hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
But it is a highly emotional and politically sensitive question, even within Europe. Two years ago, European leaders had trouble even agreeing on where to locate the union's food agency, with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, rejecting the consensus choice, Helsinki, because, he said, the Finns "know nothing about prosciutto."
Two kinds of prosciutto are on the draft list.
The Europeans especially hope to override trademarks laws in countries where local producers have registered geographic names as their own, preventing the original article from being marketed there.
"We cannot export Parma ham to Canada," Gonzalez said, because a Canadian company has trademarked the name. "We have to call it Ham No. 1 or Superham or whatever," he said.
But trade officials outside Europe said it would be impractical to revoke local trademarks and impose restrictions on terms that have become generic around the world, and unfair to try.