The United States and Australia prevailed in an interim ruling by the World Trade Organization in a dispute over protection given by the European Union to its regional goods such as Champagne wine and Feta cheese, trade officials said Thursday.
The ruling is not binding, but it indicates that the final report -- due in about a year -- will likely also go against the E.U., said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
If the final ruling goes in favor of the United States and Australia, producers around the world will be able to continue using specialist regional names for their own products -- such as calling a product champagne, even though it is not produced in the Champagne region of France.
Speaking in Brussels, trade spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez confirmed that the E.U. received the confidential report Wednesday, but she declined to go into details.
Gonzalez said it was "a little bit too early" for the United States and Australia to claim victory and stressed that the E.U. was still "very certain" its arguments were sufficient to allow the WTO to find its system in compliance with global trade rules.
The WTO said it was unable to comment, as the findings of a preliminary ruling are distributed only to the parties involved.
Brussels last year published a list of 41 wines, cheeses and other regional products that it wants to protect under WTO rules. The United States and Australia then complained to the WTO -- the body that sets the rules on international trade -- that the E.U. isn't giving enough protection to their products.
The two countries claim the E.U. is breaching WTO rules by not protecting imported goods that have so-called geographical indications -- high-quality products known by the region or city where they are produced.
They say the E.U. gives better protection to its member states than to other countries on the issue, breaching WTO rules that say all trading partners must be treated equally.
The E.U. list also includes products such as Beaujolais, Chianti, Madeira and other wines; Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and other cheeses; as well as Parma ham and Mortadella sausages. In some non-E.U. countries, these names are claimed to be generic or have been registered as trademarks by local producers.
According to the E.U., this is "a short list of 41 products whose names are being abused and parroted" by non-E.U. producers. The European bloc also has plans to seek protection at a later stage for 600 more "regional quality products."
The E.U. is not alone. India is keen to protect Darjeeling tea, Sri Lanka its Ceylon tea, Guatemala its Antigua coffee and Switzerland its Etivaz cheese.
"This is not about protectionism. It is about fairness," outgoing E.U. Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler has said. "It is simply not acceptable that the E.U. cannot sell its genuine Italian Parma Ham in Canada because the trademark 'Parma Ham' is reserved for a ham produced in Canada."