In June 2018 the Australia Government began negotiations with the European Union (EU) in order to establish a comprehensive and ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would aim to promote commercial opportunities for Australian exporters. Currently, the European Union is Australia’s second largest trading partner as well as the largest two-way investment partner. Therefore, the establishment of such agreement is an important step for EU-Australia relations which have been characterized in the past by conflicts, misunderstandings and a sense of distance. But since the beginning of the 21st century, the relations between Australia and the European Union have been shifted towards a more cooperative and closer engagement. But this change could be jeopardized from the concerning terms proposed by the European Union for protection of geographical indications in Australia. But what is a geographical indication? A geographical indication (GI) is a name used on a product that has a specific geographical origin, and possesses qualities or a reputation that are based on that origin. who meet the rules protecting the GI.
However, the Australian Government has not made any commitment to protect EU GIs but only to engage with the EU on its GIs interests as part of the FTA negotiations. This seems challenging at the moment since some of the products such as feta and parmesan will cause a stir within the Australian dairy sector on the grounds that they want to use the name on the cheese they produce. But most importantly, according to the Dairy Australia a potential enforcement of geographical indications to any agreement would have a significant impact on Australian dairy manufacturers from lost sales and marketing up to $70-90 million per year and the dairy employment could decline up to 1,000 people.
However, the main question remains. Will the geographical indications impact the EU-Australia relations? Without a doubt, the complications upon the enforcement of geographical indications unveil fundamental differences between Australia and the European Union. In particular, one fundamental difference which led to many misunderstandings and diplomatic setbacks in the past, is the EU’s agricultural protectionism. The Australian Government has been critical towards the European Union and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which peaked during the international trade negotiations in Uruguay for the launch of a new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). During those negotiations Australia created and led a broad-based coalition- the Cairns Group- with other 14 countries with main goal to pursue the European Union in re-evaluating its agricultural policy. As a result, the European Union agreed to implement new reforms that would support reductions in market access, domestic support and export competition. But since then, there has been an improvement in EU-Australia relations which led to a multifaceted regional engagement in political and economic context.
Therefore, the geographical indications input cannot cause another setback in diplomatic relations between Australia and the European Union such as the one that happened in the past because the last two decades both regions have a continuous and productive relationship in many aspects both internally and internationally. Hence, it makes it less likely for a significant disagreement on GI protection and most importantly, to present as an obstacle to any future rounds in the EU-Australia FTA negotiations.