BEIJING – In some Chinese supermarkets, it is common to order feta cheese and find shopkeepers offering an Australia-fermented product than the traditional Greek delicacy.
However, this usurpation will no longer be possible, at least on papers, due to a trade agreement between China and the European Union.
Following marathon discussions with the Chinese government to conclude a process started in 2006, the EU this month signed a pact on protecting 100 European geographical indications (IGs) and Appellations of Origin (AOs) in China, in return for safeguarding 100 Chinese ones in the EU.
These include 12 Spanish items, mostly wines, but also oils and Manchego cheese.
Going into particulars, the AOs are the wines from Rioja, Cava, Catalonia, La Mancha, Valdepeñas, Jerez, Navarra and Valencia; the olive oils Sierra Magina (Jaen) and Priego de Cordoba (Cordoba), and the IGs concerned are Sherry brandy and Manchego cheese.
Moreover, the EU and China reported that on the completion of four years from the coming into effect of this commitment, the move would be extended to 175 community references, of which 36 belong to Spain.
This second list will include 15 Spanish wines, such as Penedes and Rias Baixas; nine olive oils, such as Baena and Montes de Toledo; five meat products, such as Guijuelo, Teruel Ham and Teruel Palette; two indicators of nougats; the GI Valencia Citrus; the Pacharan of Navarra; Mahon-Menorca cheese, La Mancha Saffron and Sherry Vinegar.
“It is a strategic agreement and the first one between China and the EU that guarantees the complete and effective protection of these products,” Carlos J. Tortola Sebastian, an advisor at the Spanish Embassy’s Economic and Commercial Office in Beijing, told EFE.
The official acknowledged that “imitation, forgery, copying and usurpation” was frequent in China which was “one of the main challenges currently facing the authorities of this country.”
In several cases, some brands sell the product as “like” to prevent fraud, but there are times when in supermarkets it is possible to find all kinds of usurpations.
What remains to be known, in fact, is what mechanisms the Asian giant will put in place to punish those who violate the agreement.
Tortola Sebastian recognized that “protection will not be complete, equivalent to Europe” until it was in tune with the legislative system of the country.
The agreement, described in a joint statement between the European Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce as a powerful step, concretely, for greater cooperation between China and the EU, comes amid a trade war between Washington and Beijing.
Tong Jiadong, who teaches international trade at the Nankai University, argues that even if China promised to import more American agricultural products as a part of an agreement to mitigate its conflict with the US, the Asian country would still need certain products from European countries.
Tong claimed that the EU has a “comparative advantage” in certain products that China needs, such as cereals, milk and milk products and wines, hence the agreement with Brussels, which according to Tortola Sebastian must “facilitate the export of these products”
“This is a market with enormous potential, with a growing middle class, increasingly sophisticated in its tastes and with a higher purchasing power,” underlined Tortola Sebastian.
In fact, it is increasingly common to see people in supermarkets selling imported products, which once were once a luxury reserved only for elites.
However, few people in China are aware of the usurpation of AOs, which is why protection needs to be accompanied by “promotion campaigns aimed at the differentiation and good reputation of these products,” according to the Spanish trade official.
In 2018, Spain exported almost 6.3 billion euro (around $7 billion) worth of goods to China, of which more than 1 billion euros were agricultural products, the official said.
“It is expected that the recognition of the products protected in the agreement will increase among Chinese consumers and be more in demand in the coming years,” said Tortola Sebastian.