On April 12, 2021, the European Commission announced to have approved an important package for Hellim / Halloumi product, which is presently under protection as a protected designation of origin (PDO) both in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and in the Republic of Turkey, upon an application filed by the Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Industry. Full text of the announcement may be retrieved from this link.
First of all, it must be underlined that this article has been written completely independent from the political situation of Cyprus island, and includes an examination within the framework of the duality created by the aforementioned protected designation of origin registration in terms of Intellectual Property Rights.
The main point of the package is the registration of Χαλλούμι/Halloumi/Hellim product as a protected designation of origin (PDO) upon the application of the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus by European Commission, referring to "Cyprus" as the country of origin. (As Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state, the words used as 'Cyprus' in the text of announcement of the European Commission will hereinafter be referred to as the 'Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus'. Likewise, the references made to the Turkish side in the announcement will hereinafter be referred to as the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus'.) The geographical border of the aforesaid protected designation of origin is stated as both Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides of the Island of Cyprus. Details regarding this registration may also be retrieved from here.
Furthermore, in order to facilitate producers in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to draw full benefits from this protection, the European Commission also announced to have adopted a measure allowing the product to cross the Green Line and to be exported to and traded in EU via the Green Line Regulation, provided that halloumi is produced in strict compliance with the European Union (EU) Food Safety Standards. Those who wish to learn the details may retrieve the EU Regulation no. 866/2004 known and termed generally as the Green Line Regulation.
The package based on the ground of a mutual agreement reached by and between the leaders of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus in 2015 may be basically defined with the following features:
- Only Halloumi/Hellim produced in the Island of Cyprus and according to the traditional recipe will be permitted to be marketed and traded in the European Union under this name.
- An internationally accredited inspection body will be appointed to conduct PDO inspections throughout Cyprus. (In the Implementing Regulation 2021/591, it is stated that Bureau Veritas is found eligible for appointment as the firm in charge of inspection body.) The inspection body will be responsible for ensuring that producers respect the traditional recipe.
- A workable arrangement will be established for control of use of the protected designation of origin all over the island of Cyprus, which will in turn be closely monitored by the European Commission.
- A special inspection body will also be appointed in order to make sure that the farms and dairies in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also comply with EU health and hygiene rules. Only Hellim/Halloumi meeting all EU health standards will be permitted to be traded over the Green Line.
Defining this package as a political and economic success, the European Commission members added that this package will increase trust between two segments of the island of Cyprus, and that both segments will derive economic benefits out of the package, which in turn is said to have facilitated it for the consumers in EU to know this product better.
A Short History of Registration of Halloumi/Hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin in European Union
For registration of Χαλλούμι/Halloumi/Hellim product as a protected designation of origin (PDO), an application was filed by the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to the European Commission on July 17, 2014.
Following publication, a total of 17 oppositions have been filed against said application. List of these oppositions showing also the petitioners thereof is as follows: Dairy Australia (Australia); Consortium for Common Food Names (United States of America); United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom); Süt ve Yağ Ürünleri Üretim ve Pazarlama Kooperatifi Ltd. (Dairy and Oil Products Production and Marketing Cooperative (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Animal Producers and Breeders Union (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Fatma GARANTİ (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Milk Producers Union (SUIB) (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Industry (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Commerce (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus); Navimar Food Gıda İmalatı ve Gıda (Turkey); DM Gıda Maddeleri Pazarlama Sanayi ve Ticaret Ltd. Şti (Turkey); Avunduk İthalat İhracat Gıda ve Zirai Aletler Sanayi Ticaret Ltd. Şti. (Turkey); UTCO Trading Company - WLL - (Kuwait); Dairy Companies' Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) and Specialized Cheese Producers' Association of New Zealand (New Zealand); Dr Nutrition (United Arab Emirates) and FFF Fine Foods Pty Ltd (Australia).
Though it is not possible for us to list and discuss in this article all of the justifications of the aforesaid oppositions, we deem it useful to share here a few attention-grabbing justifications of oppositions:
- It is expressed that no evidence is submitted for the difference in nutrition between pastured animals and farm animals, and the application does not state how the cheese production level will be maintained while the share of cow's milk in raw materials is decreasing.
- It is argued that there are indicators showing that 95% of Halloumi/Hellim products produced in the island of Cyprus contain cow's milk at a rate of 80-95%.
- It is stated that the producers in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus do not incorporate the same traditional features into this product produced all over the island of Cyprus as its geographical region.
- It is mentioned that Halloumi/Hellim product is also produced in Bulgaria, Germany and Greece within the European Union, and outside the European Union, in Australia, Canada, member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, various Middle Eastern countries (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria), New Zealand, Turkey and United Kingdom, and such products produced outside Cyprus are also marketed and sold to a great many of countries. It is added that for instance, in the United Kingdom, the name Halloumi/Hellim is being used for some cheeses produced since 1980s, and this product is estimated to be produced in a quantity of around 300 tons per year.
- Finally, it is alleged that there are some trademarks already registered in Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Turkey and United Kingdom and containing Halloumi and Hellim words, and therefore, the conflicting state of this protected designation of origin with the existing registered trademarks may mislead consumers as to real identity of the product, and for this reason, it should not be registered.
After examining all these justifications of opposition and even more, the Commission has concluded that these oppositions do not constitute an impediment for registration of this protected designation of origin, by also explaining its reasoning thereon. It is also underlined that it is proven by valid evidence that Halloumi/Hellim product is not seen only as a type of cheese having no link or connection with a particular geographical region, and that the link of this product with the island of Cyprus is incontestably proven by its exporting activities continuing since more than 100 years, numerous promotional activities and again numerous articles.
Accordingly, the Commission clearly pointed out that just like all other intellectual property rights, the protection of geographical indications is also territorial by nature, and that is why the registration of this protected designation of origin is valid only within the borders of the European Union, and thus, probable production or marketing of any cheese named Halloumi/Hellim in third countries is by no means associated or linked with this registration. However, it is added that the provisions of article 14 of the EU Regulation no. 1151/2012 will be applicable for the trademarks already registered in many EU member states, and the existence of these trademarks does not prevent the protection of Halloumi/Hellim product by a protected designation of origin.
It should also be stated that while the application and oppositions processes were continuing, on one side, on the other side, intensive negotiations have been conducted by and between the leaders of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus with the intention of completing the process in the best interests of both administrations.
The Commission's Implementing Regulation (2021/591) of April 12, 2021 containing details regarding application, oppositions, replies to oppositions, and registration of the protected designation of origin of Χαλλούμι/Halloumi/Hellim can be retrieved from this link.
Reservations and Some Problematic Issues Faced in Practice
On the part of producers of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, at this point, the leading uncertainties may be outlined as the methodology of inspections to be conducted by the international inspection body ("Bureau Veritas" according to the implementing regulation) assigned for controls of compliance of Hellim with the registration standards, and the uncertainty of the firm to be appointed for food safety controls of Hellim to be traded over the Green Line.
Besides, there are some other reservations also in respect of characteristic ingredients of Hellim. The document gives the following definition as regards ingredients of Halloumi/Hellim product registered as a protected designation of origin: "Milk (fresh sheep or goat's milk or a mixture thereof, with or without cow's milk added), rennet (but not pig rennet), fresh or dried Cypriot mint leaves (Mentha viridis) and salt. The proportion of sheep or goat's milk or the mixture thereof must always be greater than the proportion of cow's milk." As seen, sheep's milk and goat's milk may either be used separately, or alternatively, a blend of sheep's, goat's and cow's milks may also be used therein. However, given that tastes and aromas of these three types of milk are very different from each other, it is also opined that it will be better and more useful to determine more clear and net percentages for these types of milk for the sake of a higher standardization of Hellim product.
In addition, one of the common reservations of the producers in both the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus is whether the island of Cyprus will be capable of physically meeting the conditions sought for in the registration, because one of the most important characteristics of Halloumi/Hellim product registered as a protected designation of origin is its being made of sheep's and goat's milks obtained in the designated geographical area (the island of Cyprus) from native races acclimatized to the climate of the island of Cyprus or from their crossbreds. Considering the total area of agricultural fields and the volume of husbandry of the island, the producers are concerned that the raw materials may not suffice for the existing and planned exports.
Then, what can be said about the special case of registration of Hellim as a protected designation of origin in Turkey?
"Hellim/ Halloumi" is indeed a protected designation of origin registered in Turkey under C2008/046 registry number since 10.10.2008 and has been registered by the Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Industry. Now and therefore, the most important point we wish to draw your attention is the fact that the same protected designation of origin has thus been unprecedentedly registered by different persons in different geographies, and hence, some liabilities of the registrant have been relocated with the changing geographies.
First of all, we would like to point out a few law provisions. Within the frame of provisions of second paragraph of Article 49 of the Industrial Property Rights Law pertaining to use of geographical signs, control shall be carried out by the control authority specified in the application and whose competence has been approved by the Office and change of the control authority stated in the register may be made upon approval of the Turkish Patent and Trademark 9Office. And according to third paragraph of the same article, control reports shall be submitted to the Office once a year after registration is published in the Bulletin. In addition, seventh and eighth paragraphs of Article 45 of the Regulation for Implementation of the Industrial Property Rights Law provide for as follows: "Official reports kept during the controls are communicated by the control authority to the registrant. The registrant reviews the official reports submitted as above, and in case of availability of notes in conflict with the registration details, takes the legal actions and proceedings." "The registrant reports the official reports regarding the controls delivered to it."
In the light of these explanations on the current law, it will be useful for us to have a look at the details of registration of Hellim/Halloumi as a protected designation of origin in Turkey upon an application of Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Industry. Hellim/Halloumi, made of milks of sheep, goats and cows fed by native plants of the island of Cyprus, is produced traditionally all over the island, under control of an Official Authority appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture within the administrative borders of provinces of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Accordingly, the audit authority named in the registration details is required to conduct audits regarding compliance with the registration conditions (compliance with the registration conditions in the country of origin is sufficient, according to article 39/1(b) of the Industrial Property Rights Law), and then, as one of the conditions of survival of a geographical sign registered in Turkey, the official report relating to these controls conducted by the control authority must also be submitted by the registrant to the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office every year.
Under these circumstances, some questions come to mind:
- Will the control authority named in the registration document of Hellim/Halloumi protected designation of origin in Turkey continue to conduct controls alongside the internationally accredited control body accepted by the European Union?
- Considering the difficulty of continuity of such a double-headed system in practice of law, then, will the solution be to change the audit authority named in the registration document in Turkey?
- Given that it is not yet certainly known both in practice and politically what type of an inspection/control be conducted by the inspection body authorized in the European Union registration, will the official authorities of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus lean towards such a change in Turkey?
- Although Turkey is not a member state of the European Union and is not therefore exposed to any one of the obligations enumerated in the subject EU registration, as the national registration in Turkey can be maintained only if and to the extent the obligations imposed by the Turkish laws are performed, won't the processes carried out by different authorities in different geographical regions for the same product pave the way for a chaotic situation in long-term both administratively and for producers?
These questions may be further increased according to points of view of individuals from many different segments.
Considering the current political situation in the island of Cyprus, such a rather exceptional case as registration of the same product by different states in different geographies may be considered and treated as acceptable. However, we believe and hope that some confusions facing us at present at the first stage, particularly some uncertainties encountered by producers and some messes created by double-headed system in the process of management of Hellim/Halloumi protected designation of origin will be resolved by some constructive steps to be taken by the relevant administrative authorities as soon as possible.
It is very important to be able to strongly market and promote all over the world this product of Hellim as a food product important for citizens of both the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but it is as well very important to make sure that basic characteristics of the product are maintained for both consumers and producers for the sake of sustainability of this geographical sign for generations. As a conclusion, it is our sincere wish to witness the continuity of this protection process of Hellim/Halloumi product in the most peaceful and constructive manner possible.
- Kıbrıs Daily - https://www.kibrisgazetesi.com/kibris/cumhurbaskanligindan-hellim-tescili-aciklamasi-h109626.html
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