CYPRUS: Nicosia renews efforts to shield halloumi as EU trademark comes under attack

Nicosia aims to speed up slow-moving procedures regarding the registration of halloumi cheese as a product of Protected Designation of Origin with the European Commission, as its European trademark comes under fire.

Cyprus, which lost its halloumi trademark in the UK last November after a blunder by the authorities, is now asking EU officials to intervene to unblock the PDO procedure which has been stuck for almost four years, because of its connection to the Cyprus problem.

President Nicos Anastasiades has called on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to intervene in order to unblock Cyprus’ application to register Halloumi as a product with a Protected Designation of Origin.

In a letter sent to Juncker, Anastasiades said the squeaky cheese’s PDO file has been pending since it was submitted on 28 July 2015.

Following the loss of the trademark in Britain and the rejection of the appeal by the Legal Service, the EU trademark is the now only protection the traditional product of Cyprus has left.

Commerce and Industry Minister George Lakkotrypis told the House Agriculture Committee, in the event UK leaves the EU with an agreement, EU trademarks will be automatically be valid in Britain as local trademarks.

Lakkotrypis told MPs on Tuesday, while the expected time for a PDO file to be examined by Brussels does not exceed 10 months, halloumi cheese has got bogged down in politics and disagreements between Greek and Turkish Cypriots regarding the Green Line trade.

Despite the initial consensus achieved between the two sides in 2015, the matter has got stuck as there was no agreement on trade involving products produced by livestock.

It is noted that a few days prior to the publication of Cyprus Halloumi file in the European Union’s Journal, on July 16, 2015, President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had reached an understanding which led Juncker’s office to issue a statement making word of a consensus between the two sides.

In particular, the consensus provided that “the European Commission will adopt a proposal to amend the Green Line Regulation on the same day as the official publication of the official application for the registration of Halloumi / Hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Regulation No. 1151/2012”.

Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis, without making reference to the President’s letter to Juncker, told MPs that the government is working with EU officials to unblock the file.

Kadis stressed that the Halloumi file should not be connected to the Cyprus problem or the Green Line trade agreement, as this is not foreseen by any EU regulation. He added that the connection was wrongly made, and the government is now working on reversing the situation.

Commenting, on differences between cow and sheep breeders and milk producers over the ingredients of halloumi, the minister appeared confident that disagreements have been left behind and everyone is on the same page on the PDO file.

Meanwhile, Daniel Rosario, a Commission spokesman said Brussels is in the process of examining objections submitted against halloumi’s certification as a PDO on the basis of the understanding reached on the issue in 2015 after the relevant meetings with the President of the Republic and the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community.

The spokesman did not answer whether and how the process would be speeded up, simply stating that the Commission is currently going through objections filed.

Kadis said that all stakeholders have pulled together, agreeing on the next steps regarding the registration of the country’s national cheese: This time we are moving forward all together.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet has appointed an investigating officer, after additional information was provided by the Attorney General regarding the loss of the halloumi trademark in the UK.

In statements made after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Deputy Government spokesman Klelia Vassiliou said: “the Minister of Commerce has informed the Cabinet which appointed an investigating officer regarding additional points brought to their attention by the Attorney General in a letter to the Ministry of Commerce. The Cabinet has been informed and has taken appropriate action.

Cyprus lost the halloumi trademark in Britain on November 28 due to the commerce ministry’s failure to respond on time to applications filed by John and Pascalis, to invalidate or revoke the trademark.

A UK court ruled in favour of the company because the Cyprus government took more than a reasonable length of time to present its case.

The UK is the biggest market for the popular soft cheese, absorbing 40 percent of halloumi exports generating around Euros 80 mln a year. Cyprus expects to yield 300 million euros in exports from halloumi by 2023.

Anastasiades dismissed opposition calls to sack the commerce minister, giving him a vote of confidence, despite the minister acknowledging that his ministry was culpable in losing the British legal battle.

Source: The Financial Mirror