EU, China agree protections to counter food origin fraud

The European Parliament has backed a bilateral agreement between the EU and China that seeks to protect specialty foods from counterfeiting.

The vote – with 645 in favour, 22 against and 18 abstentions – backs an agreement signed in September that would protect 100 European food products of specific geographic origin against “misuse and imitation” in China.

It is the first economic and commercial agreement ever signed with China, according to EP rapporteur Iuliu Winkler, a Romanian MEP. He said it could boost European agri-food exports to China, which were worth €14.5bn in 2019, making it the third largest destination for these products.

From the EU perspective it covers products like Feta, Scotch whisky, Münchener Bier, Polska Wódka, and Queso Manchego, while China gets the same protections for 100 of its specialties, including Shaoxing rice wine, and various other food and beverage products.

Origin fraud occurs when a food is misrepresented with respect to its geographical origin, generally through mislabeling, and is driven by the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for quality specialty goods.

It can be extremely difficult to detect, but nevertheless the latest deal is “a good measure of China’s ambition to protect intellectual property rights more robustly,” commented Winkler.

MEPs have also agreed to extend the agreement to a further 175 European and Chinese products within four years, and said the agreement was an “important confidence-building exercise” during the ongoing EU-China negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement.

To come into force, the agreement has to be adopted by the European Council, which should take place in the coming weeks and allow it to come into force at the start of 2021.

In 2018 and 2019 however, 80 per cent of European seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods originated in China, causing losses of €60bn to EU suppliers, according to the draft resolution.

The Parliament also said it was nevertheless concerned about “market-distorting practices used by Chinese state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfers, and other unfair trading practices,” as well as the reported exploitation and detention of Uyghur people in factories in China.

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