The region’s leading boutique dairy business is choosing to opt for a “silver lining” approach as international trade talks threaten the use of familiar product names by Australian dairy producers.
“Australia is a young country by global business standards, we have forged our identity in many food-producing industries; wheat, lamb, beef, dairy and wine to name a few,” says Erica Dibden of Tilba Real Dairy.
“I feel this situation provides a wonderful opportunity for Tilba Real Dairy and the Australian dairy industry as a whole to establish our own identity.”
Australian cheese producers are considering a future where they can’t use terms like feta, gorgonzola, camembert, brie, parmesan, and mozzarella to describe their products.
The names are part of a list of 172 foods and 236 spirits released by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham which flags terms the European Union wants protected in return for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia.
Mr Birmingham says Australian producers have three months to object to the EU submission as negations roll on.
The current EU idea is similar to that of the Champagne-style protections the Australian wine industry had to adjust to some years ago.
Within the EU the names listed have protection under the Geographical Indications Program, which allows farmers and producers to protect names that are based on a location, provided they can prove its significance.
“Australia doesn’t like the idea of geographical indications but this is a non-negotiable element from the European Union,” Senator Birmingham told the ABC.
“We will put up a strong fight in terms of areas of Australian interests and ultimately what we’re trying to do is get the best possible deal that ensures Australian businesses and farmers can get better access to a market engaging 500 million potential consumers.”
Speaking with Region Media, Tilba’s Erica Dibden appreciates the business value in geography.
“We live in the best country in the world, with our clean air, soils, and water, which is very marketable in its own right and we already produce excellent quality dairy products,” she says.
“If we can name these products with our own regional identities or business-specific names, then perhaps our own government will move to protect our industries in the future, to recognise them as being vitally important both culturally and financially.
“There could be some pain associated with this, as our customers are so familiar with European style cheeses.
“We would have to roll out educational campaigns to recreate awareness around Australian cheeses, perhaps our government would also assist with this aspect of protecting our industries.
“There is also the additional cost associated with relabelling and rebranding which in these tough economic and climatically challenged times would be difficult to accommodate, particularly for the smaller players in the industry.”
Any decision on whether to propose a list of Australian Geographical Indications in FTA negotiations is under consideration. Submissions are open until November 13, for more details check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.
According to the ABC Senator Birmingham insists an FTA deal could be struck as soon as next year.