HALLOUMI: The great white hope of Cyprus

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 * Exports to top €90 mln – PDO by “end of 2014”

Halloumi exports are expected to reach about 85 to 90 mln euros this year and a Greek court ruling this week that reaffirms its name and provenance will further boost overseas sales of the single best selling Cypriot product, the agriculture minister said.


The court of first instance in the city of Veroia ruled on Monday against a Greek dairy producer who had been manufacturing halloumi, the traditional Cypriot goat’s cheese that has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) pending at the European Commission.
The court ordered Filotas Bellas & Son to cease making the ‘Vermion halloumi’, confiscated the entire production and slapped a fine on the company that also has to pay legal expenses.
The Cyprus Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism has mounted a further 30 legal cases, mostly within the European Union, as the PDO validation has not yet been secured from Brussels.
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said on Tuesday that the PDO certificate may be ready by the end of the year and that combined with this week’s the court ruling, local dairy industries will get a timely boost, as consumers will opt for and only find the truly Cyprus-made halloumi.
“This (court ruling) is a message to everyone who abuses the ‘halloumi’ trade name. I hope that will secure the PDO very soon and will be able to avoid all these problems that arise on occasion by companies that want to use this name,” Kouyialis said.
He said that halloumi is a product that is rapidly gaining popularity in the European market, has great commercial value and many cheesemakers want to use the trade name.
“This is where the issue of its protection lies, which is at a very advanced stage and I hope that se will have good news from the European Commission by the end of the year,” the minister said, adding that this will also benefit Cypriot dairy producers.
A ministry source confirmed that the PDO certificate is expected “by the end of the year”.
He explained that the EU has some 2,000 PDOs for native European products, but that only 200 of those have been accepted or verified in third countries. Cyprus will have to secure the European PDO first and then include ‘halloumi’ in all future EU trade talks with other countries, including the US which is fighting a bitter battle for cheese and wine products, mostly with France and Italy.
The ministry official said that since 2011, when exports stood at 55 mln euros, of which 42 mln to EU markets and 13 mln to third countries, exports rose 11% to 61.5 mln in 2012 and up 20% to an estimated 77 mln in 2013. At this rate, Financial Mirror estimates place 2014 exports at 85-90 mln euros.
The biggest market for Cypriot halloumi is the U.K., that accounted for 25.4 mln euros last year, followed by Sweden (11.3 mln), Germany (6.7 mln) and Australia (5.2 mln).
The Russian embargo on EU and Cyprus produce is not expected to affect halloumi, as exports of the traditional Cypriot cheese are estimated at about 150,000 euros a year.
“The good thing is that Russians consume a lot of our halloumi when they are on holiday in Cyprus,” the ministry official said.
Local consumption is estimated at EUR 27 mln a year.

COMMERCIAL PROTECTION

In July, Agriculture Minister Kouyialis announced that Cyprus had filed an application to the European Commission to secure a PDO certificate for halloumi, paving the way for the commercial protection of the brand.
He had initially said that the Commission would need 14 months to review and grant its final approval, but the recent embargo on all EU products has allowed him to push to expedite the decision.
Kouyialis said that according to the application, halloumi will have to be made of at least 50% goat or sheep milk or a mixture of both, with or without cow’s milk.
In a bid to overcome the difficulties facing dairy producers and to allow time for compliance with the new standards, the minister said he approved a ten-year transitional period allowing for the use of 20% of goat and sheep milk until its gradual increase to 50%. He also said he abolished the previous decree that established a ratio of goat and sheep milk of 23% for the period of July-November and 25% for the period of December-June, due mainly to the shortage of milk.
The Minister had said that until the Commission’s final reply, the name ‘halloumi’ or the Arabic and Turkish ‘hellim’ will be protected as no other country can trade cheese under this or any similar name while no other EU member-state can submit a competitive application for the use of halloumi as a trademark.
“I believe that the agriculture and farming sectors will reach new dimensions and I am certain that all producers will benefit and no one stands to lose,” he added.
Kouyialis said the Ministry has drafted measures to facilitate farmers to adapt to the new terms, as these emerge from the establishment of halloumi as PDO.
The Ministry plans to launch a programme for the creation of new and the modernisation of older farm units, which will provide funding of 40% and up to 60%, respectively, which may reach up to EUR 800,000 and help create up to 800 new jobs in agriculture, animal breeding, research and fisheries.
Halloumi has been registered as a Cypriot protected product in the US since the 1990s and challenged in a Danish court, when a dairy wanted to produce halloumi cheese based primarily on cow’s milk.
Kouyialis asked that the evaluation of Cyprus’ application by the competent services of the European Commission take place as soon as possible, stressing the importance of validation of the product to help the island’s agriculture and livestock sectors, and enhance the country’s economy.
The minister had also said that Turkish Cypriots, who call their version of the same cheese as “hellim”, should not worry, noting that solutions can be found with regards to performing the necessary controls on the product, once registered, by an independent body.