Japan – Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO ‘evocation’ case

In light of the next application of the EU-Japan free trade agreement, this Q&A between a Member of the EU Parliament (MEP) and the EU Commission, raise a curious case of evocation of a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin, recognized under Reg. EU 1151/2012).

Question for written answer E-001489-19 – 25th March 2019

The Consortium for the Protection of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO, acting in its watchdog capacity, is speaking out against a Tokyo-based cheese factory producing cow’s milk mozzarella marketed under the label ‘Mu Mu Mozzarella Tokyo Dop’, which, together with the buffalo’s head company logo, manifestly brings to mind Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO.

The EU-Japan trade agreement, which entered into force on 1 February 2019, ought to make for greater protection of intellectual property rights, and that includes automatic recognition of PGIs and PDOs registered in the EU.

1. Does the Commission consider the above facts to amount to a clear case of ‘evocation’ — according to the definition given in several Court of Justice rulings — of ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO’?

2. Does the EU-Japan trade agreement explicitly call for Japan to take administrative measures in response to complaints about product labelling, especially when this is likely to mislead consumers?

3. What steps can the Commission take within its specific area of responsibility to ensure that the ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana’ PDO is legally protected on the Japanese market in accordance with the EU-Japan trade agreement?

(1) Judgments of 4 March 1999, Cambozola, C-87/97, EU:C:1999:115, paragraph 25; 26 February 2008, Commission v Germany, C-132/05, EU:C:2008:117, paragraph 44; and 21 January 2016, Verlados, C-75/15, EU:C:2016:35, paragraph 21.

Answer given by Mr Hogan on behalf of the European Commission

The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) ensures the protection in the territory of Japan of the EU geographical indications (GIs) listed in its Annex 14-B. The Italian GI ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana’ is listed in Annex 14-B and thus protected in Japan under the EPA since 1 February 2019.

SubSection 3 of Chapter 14 of the EPA applies to the recognition and protection of GIs for agricultural products, which originate in the EU, and contains a prohibition to mislead the Japanese consumer as to the true origin of products. Thus, the EU GI in question referred to by the Honourable Member is protected against potential evocation in Japan. Article 14.28 provides administrative enforcement of the protection of GIs listed in Annex 14-B.

The Commission has been made aware of the presence on the Japanese market of the product labelled ‘Mu Mu Mozzarella’ and is currently investigating and making inquiries on this particular matter with a view to exhaustively and appropriately assess the factual and legal elements.

In case an infringement is identified, it will take all necessary actions to ensure the respect of obligations under the EPA by the Japanese authorities.

In my opinion from this answer 3 key facts emerge:

  1. the EU understanding of the concept of evocation is very broad and includes any similarity in words, pictorials or names. In this sense also the recent case of the Court of Justice about Queso Manchego PDO and the image of Don Quixote de La Mancha on a “non-PDO” cheese from Spain (C-614/17);
  2. despite the heavy protection granted to GIs (geographical indications) in Europe, in third countries they are mostly treated as common trademarks. Therefore, the only way to contrast misleading products in such countries is administrative cooperation;
  3. despite the common opinion, to agree on a list of protected GIs is possibly the best viable approach at the moment. Especially when two strong economies are negotiating, will be an utopia to impose – from the EU side – the complete recognition of hundreds of GIs, potentially conflicting with local trademarks. While on the contrary, agree on a list of protected ones allow the EU to have solid basis to activate the administrative cooperation and eventually re-negotiate the agreement at a later stage.

(Source: EU Parliament)

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China and wine: the new norm on terminology translation of imported wine terms

I receive and gladly publish an extremely interesting article by Mariagrazia Semprebon – AgriLegal Consulting. Thanks Mariagrazia!

Many wine companies look eagerly forward to the Chinese market.

By now it is clear that there are some difficulties to penetrate the Chinese wine market and also some critical issues, but with ta good partner and some important preventive measures, it is possible to obtain great satisfactions.

One of the obvious trouble for the exporter is the language, the commercial communication barrier, that risks to cause mischievous misunderstanding.

First of all, the exporter company must translate his commercial name in Chinese characters, otherwise the importer or the Chinese consumer would transliterate the name of the brand in his place (and with little if no care at all).

In addition, it is important to match the brand with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), after ensuring the legitimacy of the indication according to Chinese laws.

It is also important:

– to clearly identify which is which among the product brand, its origin and the designation of origin – to translate it in order to made it clear to Chinese consumers where the product comes from.

The strength of a collective brand is in fact more incisive when consistently translated in the language of a country with a potential and strong developing market.

To prevent confusion and mistakes and to promote the Chinese wine market advancement, the Chinese government has drafted a standard document which includes many Italian and foreign wine terms translated in Chinese, and also some import regulations.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Agricultural Institute and its Wine Academy have completed an official guide on the matter.

The “Norm of Terminology Translation of Imported Wines”, 进口葡萄酒相关术语翻译规范, was enacted by the Chinese Ministry of Internal Trade and came into force on 1st September 2015.

It is applicable to all wine businesses which want to export in China.

This “Norm” is the first of its kind in the Chinese wine market, before there were only translation guidelines granted from wine commercial authorities.

The translated terms mainly concern wine grapes types, the most important wine regions and the biggest wine companies of the eleven examined producing countries.

It is structured as a table, according to the English alphabetic order and it is divided into four parts:

– the first chapter concerns norms;

– the second chapter includes label terminology;

– the third chapter involves the fundamental global wine grapes varieties (excluding China), with the type name, the origin country and the grapes color;

– the fourth and last chapter includes the most important wine region and wine cellars, with the name of the main producers.

This is not a binding transliteration, the operator is still free to choose his favorite translation, but it is clear that the standard, once adopted and legitimated, will be asserted by the Chinese government.

It is presumable that this standard translation will spread soon across the wine sector and, consequently, it will be convenient to comply with it to communicate more incisively.

Another fact must be bear in mind, and is that the Chinese names suggested by the guide are not made up by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, they were already present on the Chinese market from long time, and have been gathered in the “Norm”.

After the implementation of the “Norm of Terminology Translation of Imported Wines”, the Chinese names included in the list will be, probably, adopted by distributors, importers and also from media.

The “Norm of Terminology Translation of Imported Wines” is a perfect instrument for the wine maker, that still does not have registered his brand in China, to verify if his brand transliteration correspond to the one proposed by the guide and to orient himself into the Chinese market.

To the producers who have a Chinese registered brand it is possible to adjust it according to the new norm, or also to try to integrate it into this new norm, when revised.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has in fact declared that it will be possible to revise the guide after September 2018 (the Chinese Ministry of Commerce regulation provides in fact that a standard can be modified after three years from its publication to follow market innovations and new technologies).

In the prospect of the seen revision wine cellars, which have a registered brand in China and want to put into the norm of terminology translation (as Zenato has already done), could ask for the integration of their name in the guide.

There are some other advices for wine makers who intend to enter the Chinese market, once transliterated the name of their brands and the product information according to the norm, it is important to register the brand also in China.

Before to do it, it is necessary to control if the brand is already registered or filed in China by somebody else.

If so, wine cellar can claim its brand before a Chinese court but it is an expensive way, it could be better even to consider to change the brand name to some extension for the Chinese market.

What is absolutely to avoid is to register or simply introduce in China a brand without a comprehensive research on the potential prior use of the same brand in the Chinese market, because it can expose the producer to the risk of legal challenges in China.

Finally, the brand registration should not be limited to continental China, but it should include also Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.

In the end, to commerce in the Chinese market, it is better not only to take into consideration big cities as Bejing or Shangai, but also think about other areas, for example the so-called “food capital” of China: Guangzhou.

Click here for the Norm.

Linked below are some related articles:

http://www.novagraaf.com/en/news?newspath=/NewsItems/en/wineries-face-new-norm-china

http://www.decanterchina.com/en/?article=1017

http://www.ilfattoalimentare.it/vini-in-cina-mercato.html

A book (available on Amazon) on a conference about wine and China held in 2014 in Montepulciano:

http://www.amazon.it/Il-vino-Cina-conference-Bilingual-ebook/dp/B00JUL31OM