CYPRUS: Drive to protect Halloumi cheese is causing headaches

9 mins read

A meeting between Halloumi industry stakeholders took place on Friday to discuss the traditional cheese’s future, a few days before a deadline for filing objections against Cyprus’ bid to reclaim the UK trademark.

The informal meeting comes just days after a UK court extended the deadline for objections to Cyprus reclaiming the UK trademark. It was requested by UK-based firm John & Pascalis Ltd.

The company has reportedly offered to drop their cases in the UK and EU if Cyprus acknowledges that cheese products such as chili-flavoured, light, or burger-shaped Halloumi can be legally  traded under the Halloumi brand.

Minister of Agriculture Costas Kadis told the Financial Mirror that the meeting was one of many scheduled among stakeholders in the Halloumi case.

Present at the meeting were the minister, producers, exporters and buyers from abroad, who exchanged ideas over what next for Halloumi as a product native to Cyprus.

Reportedly, the meeting was to address the proposal tabled by the UK-based company.

Kadis said the Ministry is dedicated to solving any technical issues concerning stakeholders in a manner that will satisfy all sides and ensure Cyprus’ most famous cheese will remain protected.

He said the Ministry will continue pushing for the EU’s approval of Cyprus case to register Halloumi as a Product of Designated Origin which includes strict criteria on how the squeaky cheese is made.

A source at the Ministry of Commerce said that the government will continue fighting to win back the trademark in the UK and protecting the one covering the EU.

As is understood by the Financial Mirror the issue does not seem to be going away any time soon, while sources following developments report that nothing has changed with the two sides continuing their path.

The Commerce and Agriculture Ministries appear are in a standoff with John & Pascalis as the company prepares to challenge Cyprus’ bid to reclaim the Halloumi trademark in the UK.

Cyprus lost its halloumi trademark in the UK last November on technical grounds, due to a blunder by the government, after the company challenged it.

John & Pascalis is the biggest UK Halloumi importer, and consequently one of the best clients of Cypriot dairy producers.

Nicosia was late in making its case in the UK courts, failing to fend off the company’s claim to cancel the trademark.

Fresh attempts to reclaim the Halloumi trademark in the UK and protect the one covering the EU, stumble over disagreements with another group of stakeholders — dairy producers.

Halloumi watch

The Ministry of Commerce is clamping down on exports of Halloumi products which do not comply with its standards.

Last month, two containers full of halloumi products on their way to Romania and Bahrain were confiscated by customs officials at the airport, under orders of a special ‘halloumi watch’ unit of the Ministry.

This move did not go down well with dairy producers who will see a large portion of their exports slashed, directly hurting the sector that employs 12,000 people.

Dairy producers perceive actions against products which do not conform to government-approved Halloumi standards as a threat to the future of the industry that “will only bring about havoc”.

Talking to the Financial Mirror chairman of the Dairy Producers Association George Petrou said that the Ministry is endangering 35% of halloumi exports with its actions.

“More than a third of halloumi exports are made up of products such as halloumi burgers, flavoured halloumi and other similar products.

“The Ministry, by confiscating the containers at the airport, is essentially saying that these products are not halloumi. However, it has no problem boasting  about exporting halloumi products worth EUR 197 mln which include these products,” Petrou said.

It is understood the Ministry of Commerce is not willing to consider approving these products as Halloumi, as doing so will undermine their attempt to protect the EU Halloumi trademark which is based on specific criteria, such as the cow to goats’ milk ratio and the way the cheese is folded.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, all halloumi products which do not follow the strict guidelines agreed between stakeholders back in 1985 are not considered to be halloumi, making their trade under the halloumi label, illegal.

Halloumi must be made with more than 50% goat or sheep milk, weigh no more than 300gr and must be folded the traditional way.

Nicosia appears adamant about having Halloumi registered as a Product of Designated Origin with the European Commission with the above specifications, which they argue will put an end to any challenge towards the Halloumi as a Cypriot product.

Halloumi’s PDO case is currently stuck in Brussels due to disagreements between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots over the trade of Halloumi through the Green Line Agreement.

Trying to make sense of the Halloumi standoffs, the Financial Mirror contacted George Georgiou, an AKEL and GUE/NGL Member of the European Parliament who had put forward questions to the Commission regarding why the PDO file being jammed.

He is still waiting for the answers to his questions. Georgiou said that when the Halloumi standards were agreed upon, the balance of goats and cows’ milk production ratios were different.

While initially agreed amongst stakeholders, that Halloumi would be made out of at least 51% goat milk, things changed as cow breeders started producing more milk over the coming years.

“Meanwhile the government did not take any measures to promote the production of goats’ milk by giving incentives to goat breeders,” said Georgiou.

He noted that technical difficulties arose as there is simply not enough goats’ milk to fulfil the requirements of the PDO file standards.

“I had previously told the press that I find the Ministry’s blunder which led to the loss of the UK trademark as suspicious.”

Georgiou said any challenge to Cyprus’ Halloumi trademarks and PDO file will open the door to producers around the world to freely make the white cheese.

Dairy producers in countries with more rainfall such northern Europe can produce dairy products a lot cheaper.

“What Dairy producers don’t seem to understand is that Cyprus is too small to compete in an open market over Halloumi.”

“The best way out of the Halloumi mess is to have the PDO file approved by the EC as soon as possible and we can easily do so with all stakeholders agreeing to consider changes to the file at a later stage.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with disagreements between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot producers and officials who disagree on how to conduct quality checks on Halloumi produced on either side,” said Georgiou.