Europe wants to prevent Australian farmers and producers from using terms such as feta, gorgonzola and even prosecco and Scotch to describe their products.
The cheeses and alcohol are among a list of 172 foods and 236 spirits that the European Union wants to protect in return for a free trade deal with Australia.
All 400-plus food products are already protected within the EU under its geographical indications program. It allows farmers and producers to protect names that are based on a location, provided they can prove its significance.
Now the EU wants to include similar protections in a proposed trade deal with Australia. If the push is successful, Australian feta-makers could be forced to refer to their cheese as “Australian feta” and local spirit distillers would need to avoid using the term “Scotch”.
Packaging might also need to be changed for some products, such as mozzarella cheese, so it doesn’t look too similar to European brands.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said there was no guarantee the deal will go ahead.
“We will only do with a deal with the EU if it’s in Australia’s national interest to do so,” he said in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“What we will do is drive the best possible bargain.”
The federal government will consult with industries likely to be affected by the changes over the next three months.
Senator Birmingham expects they won’t be concerned about many of the hundreds of terms the EU has taken issue with – given their specificity – but will struggle with others.
“There are some that are a bit more generic of their nature, such as feta, and I think we will have to work hard, negotiate hard with the EU.”
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said he thought dairy farmers would be “on edge” about the proposed changes.
“They will have to work through all of those difficult issues on that list,” he told Sky News.
Australia’s efforts to cut the luxury car tax on European cars is another challenge the deal presents.
“It will be a difficult argument for the government to make to say: ‘We should be making Ferraris and Lamborghinis cheaper’ at a time when people are just struggling to pay the electricity bill,” Mr Clare said.
The EU is already Australia’s second-largest trading partner, third-largest export destination and second-largest services export market.
The region boasts 500 million customers.
Senator Birmingham expects negotiations will wrap up next year.