As Europe prepares to transition towards a free market dairy economy void of production caps by 2015, we still have our doubts. While the taxpayer-funded quotas may be idled, European leaders are electing to transition towards another form of market protection called geographical indicators or GIs. In this market-limiting move, Europe would rather continue to employ artificial barriers than compete on equal footing in the global marketplace.

In their purest form, GIs have value in identifying uniquely-branded products produced in a specific region. Idaho Potatoes or Washington State Apples are two such examples. Likewise, no logical person would argue against the fact that Brie de Meaux is a uniquely-branded form of Brie made specifically in France.

However, Europe's trade negotiators have overstepped interpretive boundaries by including generic cheese names such as Parmesan, Provolone and Feta into trade agreements. Once inked, these trade pacts prohibit competing countries from selling products by these names. GIs have gained importance . . . combined, the EU's 27 countries exported $72 billion of trademarked GI products in 2010. Of that total, $8.3 billion or 11.5 percent was cheese.

Forces are mounting within Europe to fully endorse the GI strategy. In the United Kingdom, organizers of the Global Cheese Awards eliminated the Parmesan category and replaced it with Parmigiano Reggiano, effectively locking out entries from 12 countries that previously competed. Earlier this year, that country's High Court also ruled that U.S.-based Chobani could not use the word "Greek" when selling its yogurts within the UK's borders.

Nearly every major ag-based exporting nation outside of Europe has joined forces to condemn the far-reaching GI strategy. That alone will not turn the tide. Our trade negotiators must head Europe off at the negotiation pass and strongly promote free market access for all exporters.

This article appears on page 330 of the May 10, 2013 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.