Why Parma Ham May Stand in the Way of ACTA and CETA

Canada is currently negotiating two major international trade agreements and my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while it may seem hard to believe, their successful completion may ultimately depend on the level of protection provided to Parma ham.  The Canada – European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are both facing increasing opposition based on European demands to expand protection for “geographical indications.”

Geographical indications (GI) are signs used on goods – frequently food, wine, or spirits – that have a specific geographical origin and are said to possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin.  Given the quality associated with the product, proponents of GI protection argue that it is needed to avoid consumer confusion as well as to protect legitimate producers.

Europe has the most extensive geographical indication protections in the world. These include Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which covers agricultural products produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know-how; Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which covers agricultural products linked to the geographical area; and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG), which highlights traditional character, either in the composition or means of production.

The net effect of the European system is that hundreds of items enjoy special legal protection.  In fact, the system is so extensive that the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters have expressed concern that CETA could lead to new restrictions on the use of words such as “pizza” or “feta.”

The GI protection under European law frequently clashes with the fact that for many consumers the GI has ceased to be associated with a particular geographic region and is instead viewed as a generic term for a particular type of product.  

For example, many consumers might not associate champagne wines with a specific region in France, but rather to a particular kind of white wine.  Similarly, the term “cologne,” which is widely used to refer to perfumed fragrances, actually has its origins in the German city of Cologne.

Canadian courts have grappled with a number of geographical indications cases in the past, including an attempt by the Italian authority that regulates “Parma” for cured ham to stop Maple Leaf Meats from using the Parma trademark for some its meat products. The court sided with the Canadian producer, ruling that consumers would not associate its meat with products originating in Parma, Italy.

Over the past two decades, Canada has made significant changes to its own geographical indications system.  These include taking many popular terms – including Chablis, Champagne, Port, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Medoc, Grappa, Schnapps and Sambuca – off a generic list so that they could enjoy new geographical indication protection.

The irony with the Europe’s zeal to protect geographical indications within trade agreements is that effect may be to stifle trade, by stopping foreign competitors from marketing similar products using names that are understood by consumers as generic descriptions.

The latest round of CETA negotiations took place last week in Brussels, with the GI issue (along with protections for industrial designs that cover the fashion industry) a top priority for the European delegation.  The Canadian government unsurprisingly faces some opposition to the demands from domestic producers.

Similarly, the ACTA negotiations, which have become increasingly acrimonious, have hit a major roadblock with the Europeans demanding extensive new enforcement powers – including criminal and civil penalties – for GI violations.  The U.S. and Canada have been resisting the demand, leading Karel de Gucht, a European Commissioner, to warn last week that this was a “red line” issue that could cause the EU to rethink the merits of the entire treaty.


  1. Anarchist Philanthropist says:

    @Dr. Geist

    First thanks for all the effort you put in to maintaining this.

    Second, if there was an election called this Fall would all these bills like c-32 dissapear again?

  2. Hrm
    I don’t think having bills disappear is the answer… they’ve risen again over and over and over

    Our best bet would be the stamp this one down once and for all (i.e. fix it and let it pass as it should be, not as it is)

    As for ACTA and CETA… I don’t think elections are gonna have the slightest bit of impact on international negotiations (imagine if all the countries involved had to start over everytime one of the participants changed leadership… they’d never get anything done)

  3. licensing of vocabulary now? sheesh
    hmmmm, and here i was thinking region coding on dvd’s was bad.

    genericization of a commonly understood adjective/noun regarding a particular product does not necessarily invoke a ‘lessening’ of the word.

    it will be interesting to see if these words suddenly fall under licensing agreements, and who benefits from those agreements. monetization would appear to be the singular benefit from such a move, as it does otherwise restrict acceptance of ‘lesser’ products without the known/common descriptor.

    further to that, the use of such words extends to products not normally associated with the term itself, does this restrict the use of those terms in all areas?

  4. I would quite enjoy legal protection from producers trading off well known marks to sell inferior food. When I’m shopping I have to inspect packaging carefully to make sure the prosciutto is actually imported from Italy. The Canadian knock off is inferior even to my indelicate palate.

    If a Canadian wants to sell ham call it Parma-style or call it what it is, Etobicoke ham. If that doesn’t sound very good try producing better products until the mark is recognized as superior. Don’t just trade off someone else’s reputation.

    All things considered, however, anything that scuttles ACTA is fine by me.

  5. pat donovan says:

    , hum, real fake naugha hide.

    if i remember correctly (pound, socological school of jurisprudence) fad, fashion, tradtition, law is the usual dynamic.

    common law may yet rule the day.


  6. pat donovan says:

    hum real fake nauga hife
    fad, fashion tradition, law is the usual dynamic.

    common law may yet rule the day.

  7. Wizard Prang says:

    Boot, meet other foot.
    The elephant in the room is that ACTA is effectively the US copyright folks trying to have their way with the rest of the world – think “Global DMCA”.

    One sad thing that I have noticed is that the US is happy to infringe upon foreign “generic trademarks”, while protecting our own (we happily reach for a Kleenex while sipping a “Coke”, but both are still heavily trademarked).

    Personally I have always found the notion of “American Cheddar” highly amusing.

    It will be nice to see the boot on the other foot for a change.

  8. playing games with names is lame.