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In E.U. claims about cheese names, a whiff of hypocrisy?

Packages of sliced American cheese on display at a supermarket in Princeton, Ill. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

A sticking point in the trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union is American cheese producers’ use of the traditional European names for cheeses. (The Loop covered the food fight in March.) Bottom line: The Europeans don’t want U.S.-made feta called “feta.” Same goes for cheddar and Gruyere, etc.

But Michael Punke, the U.S. deputy trade representative and the ambassador to the World Trade Organization, detects some hypocrisy in all the Euro-whining.

During a trade hearing Wednesday, Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), whose state is synonymous with cheese, asked Punke whether disagreements over “geographic indicators” — the technical term for the name of a product connected with a specific place — would make a trade deal with the E.U. “insurmountable.”

“I have discovered something quite interesting in my time in Europe over the last four and a half years that we’re injecting into that conversation. This will be of interest to you, I think, congressman, and that is I’ve discovered the phenomena of something called German feta cheese. And I’ve also discovered the phenomena of something called French Gruyere,” he said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “And I’m not an expert on cheese the way that people from your state might be, but I do know that Gruyere is not in France. [It’s in Switzerland, by the way.] And so that’s the type of anomaly that we’re pointing out to our European colleagues in trying to address this issue of geographic indications in the context” of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is off to Milan (because nothing else pressing is going on in the world) for its world fair trade expo, where a major focus will be on food. In a speech Wednesday, Kerry said the event will be an opportunity to advance the trade conversation.

But will they serve cheese?

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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