Cyprus is battling on two fronts to protect its much-coveted cheese, halloumi, in the UK, where it lost the trademark because of blunder by civil servants, and in the EU where its collective community mark is being challenged.
Wednesday was the deadline for the withdrawal of any objections to the Republic’s new application to register halloumi as a trademark in the UK but it appears the company that challenged it in the first place was unwilling to back down despite backstage negotiations.
The same company, British-based John and Pascalis Ltd, has also challenged the community collective mark in the EU, and the cheese’s registration as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product. The company had asked the trade ministry for written assurances that certain types of halloumi cheese it sold – chili halloumi, burger, and light – were legal in return for withdrawing its objections in the UK and the EU.
John and Pascalis sell halloumi manufactured in Cyprus by Papouis Dairies, a company that belongs to the Pancyprian organisation of cow farmers, who oppose the current trademark because it provides for more sheep and goat milk to be used than cow milk.
A couple of the types of halloumi sold by the company do not comply with the trademark as they either contain chilli or basil.
Purists say traditional halloumi cheese should be made exclusively with sheep and goat milk.
The EU collective word mark HALLOUMI, registered on 14 July 2000, remains in force across the EU, including the UK. Under the collective community mark, halloumi is produced only in Cyprus with certain ingredients and production methods, while the producers are Cypriots and are registered in a registry in Cyprus.
The UK’s secession deal also provides for the collective wordmark to be applied in the UK after Brexit. The company argues that, far from damaging Cyprus’ export market as claimed by some, it was actually helping boost the sale of halloumi overseas. By contrast, it said, the ministry of commerce is stuck in outdated arguments about how halloumi should be manufactured, demonstrating that officials in Cyprus do not understand the cheese market.
A ministry source said that it would be impossible to meet the company’s terms since it would undermine the effort to register the PDO: “At this phase we must protect the trademark and if any changes can be made later to the PDO file we will make them. It is not the time to make any concessions at the moment.”
The source said certain circles wanted to scrap the community collective mark, which is halloumi’s strength, and turn into a generic name so that it can be produced anywhere.
Loss of the trademark in 2018 has not disrupted halloumi exports to the UK, according to trade figures. In fact, in the first four months of 2019 exports to the UK saw a 15.5 per cent rise.
Cyprus lost the halloumi trademark, having failed to respond in time to the application filed by John & Pascalis. The November 2018 court decision in the UK revealed that the case was lost due to the inaction of ministry department, which failed to send the necessary documents to the UK in time for them to be examined. In its decision, the UK court stated that “evidence simply demonstrates that the (commerce) ministry was the author of its own misfortune.”
A probe had been ordered in December but to date, there have been no other announcements regarding the matter.