Hal­loumi: the great white hope of Cyprus

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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 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

that the PDO


is 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.

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 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.



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