EU launches cheese diplomacy in negotiations on Cyprus issue

EU launches cheese diplomacy in negotiations on Cyprus issue
Grilled Halloumi/Hellim cheese, credit: Wikimedia/Hmioannou

The European Commission adopted this week measures to protect Cypriot cheese against imitation and to promote its production on both sides of the Green Line in Cyprus.

By registering the Halloumi/Hellim cheese as a protected designation of origin (PDO), only the cheese produced in Cyprus according to the product specification is now allowed to use the registered name, bringing clear economic benefits to the island. Besides its cultural value, it is also a product of significant economic importance for the island.

According to the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, the cheese is the most significant economic product in North Cyprus and accounts for 36% of its total exports. More than a fifth of Turkish Cypriots are dependent on the cheese production for their livelihoods.

The long-overdue registration allows producers of the iconic Cypriot cheese, famous around the world for its characteristic texture, folded appearance, and suitability for serving grilled or pan-fried, based anywhere on the island of Cyprus, to benefit from the PDO status, according to the Commission.

The measure accompanying the registration of the cheese as a PDO aims at ensuring that the animal and public health situation in the EU, as well as food safety, are not compromised. It also establishes the conditions for trade to take place including provisions on controls. In addition, the milk processing establishments will have to be in compliance with the relevant public health rules.

The importance of the PDO registration was highlighted by three European Commissioners - the Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, and the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.

The registration is seen by the Commission as a “highly symbolic step to bring the two communities closer and working together to build confidence”. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides are set to resume UN-led talks in April and discuss a solution to one of the world’s longest-running international conflicts.

Green Line trade in Cyprus today only amounts to €6.3 million, according to the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce. Given the problems in trade across the Green Line, there is a general concern as to how successful the trade of Halloumi/Hellim through the Green Line will be.

At the Commission’s press briefing yesterday (13 April), chief spokesperson Eric Mamer commented jokingly that cheese can be an element in negotiations. In fact, EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the decision as an important part of the issues related to Cyprus.

As a first step, a workable arrangement will set up to ensure efficient PDO controls throughout Cyprus, which will be closely monitored by the Commission. According to the Commission, the actual application of the decision is delayed until 1 October to allow an accredited inspection body to work out the control arrangements with the Cypriot government and put into place a control plan.

“This will ensure that the producers on both sides of the Green Line can be certified as PDO-compliant as of the date of application of the decision,” a spokesperson told The Brussels Times. “It will also give time to non-Cypriot producers to sell their stock of cheese.”

Lale Shener, Brussels Representative of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, commented that, “It’s indispensable that the control mechanisms established both for compliance with the PDO specifications throughout Cyprus as well as for the EU animal health and safety controls in the North are fair, objective and effective.”

The Chamber believes that the registration of Halloumi/Hellim as a PDO in the EU can benefit all producers in Cyprus and will also help to enhance the economic cooperation between the two communities on the island, provided a win-win approach is adopted by both sides.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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