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More Trade Mercantilism from the French

France is reaching a whole new level on hypocrisy over trade and intellectual property rights.

For years the French and other EU states have pressed for limitations on naming rights for foods and wines. They succeeded in bullying the United States into restrictive labeling for California “sparkling wine,” limiting use of the term “Champagne” to wine from the historic Champagne province of France.

In trade circles, this IP issue is known as "geographic indicators," or GIs, which are similar to protections for trademarks. GI protection means that products deriving their names from certain areas, such as French Champagne, Parma ham or Swiss watches, could not be marketed under the same name by anyone from another location.

Now, however, the government of France has announced that it is unilaterally expanding the region inside France that will be permitted to grow and market “Champagne” products, going beyond its own recognized boundaries to meet growing demand from affluent Chinese and Indian consumers.

That’s right, suddenly the sacred nature of the historic soil of villages in Northeast France has been transmitted, by administrative fiat of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) -- the organization charged with regulating controlled place names, to neighboring villages outside the province.

But don’t look soon for France to agree to allow California producers to use the same “Champagne” label any time soon.

Forget the fact that France’s finest vineyards have long since crossed the Atlantic and are heavily invested in producing excellent vintages in California wine country. Forget also that these new communities in France have no historic or geographic claim to champagne production. France will never back down on its claim that only French producers in France can make “champagne.” And what’s next? Texas brisket from Arkansas or Virginia peanuts from Maryland?

But France’s substantial expansion of the geographic area now designated for Champagne production undermines any principled historic or geographic basis for GIs and underscores the basic mercantilism of French and EU agriculture positions in the WTO Doha Round.

The question is, will U.S. negotiators call France on this abject hypocrisy? What would the leading Presidential candidates do to protect key agriculture and IP trade interests converging in the current WTO trade talks?

Let’s ask the trade advisors to Senators’ McCain, Obama and Clinton at the IPI trade priorities briefing, "Trade and the Race for the White House" March 27, 2008.

Hope to see you there!