Cyprus has lost its halloumi trademark for the UK due to a blunder in the Ministry of Commerce as it failed to respond to a British court’s calls to make its case in a legal battle.
Commerce Minister George Lakkotrypis admitted, “the whole issue revealed serious shortcomings and inaction on the part of the competent department of the ministry” and a probe was conducted with findings sent to the Attorney General.
The ministry had failed to respond to the claims of British company John & Pascalis Ltd contesting the ownership of the halloumi trademark.
Loss of the trademark registration in Britain also puts pressure on Cyprus’ PDO file with the European Commission.
“The case is part of general attack against halloumi aiming at the withdrawal of the file for the registration of the traditional cheese product as an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO),” said Lakkotrypis.
He also revealed his ministry has filed a request to reregister the halloumi trademark in the UK.
Failure to make its case, allowed the UK court to award the firm the trademark. The final blow came on 28 November when the court rejected an appeal put forward by the Ministry, stating that the documents supporting Cyprus’ case were filed with great delay.
“This development, although not visible now, may endanger our future Halloumi exports to the UK,” said President of the Cyprus Dairy Producers’ Association, George Petrou.
He said the blunder may lead to a complete catastrophe if all stakeholders don’t pull together to face the issue.
“What this means is that it may be possible for someone in the future to produce any cheese product they like and label it as Halloumi,” said Petrou.
He argued that Cyprus had two tools to protect Halloumi exports to the UK, the Halloumi European Trademark and the UK trademark, which complimented each other.
“Because of wrongdoings from the ministry we are with just one, the European trademark,” said Petrou.
He is sceptical over whether the European trademark alone will suffice to protect the country’s Halloumi exports to the UK.
“Let us not forget that exports to the UK amount to 40% of all our Halloumi exports, bringing in more than EUR 80 mln to the country’s economy,” said Petrou.
He stressed that the loss of the UK trademark definitely weakens the position of the dairy producers in Cyprus.
He said that despite the obvious blunders made by the ministry, Petrou feels that the company which challenged the trademark ownership of Cyprus intended to damage to the PDO file as submitted to the EU.
The firm that challenged the trademark ownership of Halloumi is the biggest importer of the Cypriot cheese to the UK.
“With the approval of the PDO file, products such as Chilli flavoured Halloumi, Halloumi blocks weighing over 300g and other byproducts will not be eligible to be labelled as traditional Halloumi. Their aim is to have these types of products included in the file,” said Petrou.
The Dairy Producers Association would also like to see the PDO file altered to include these products, but the actions of the UK company may endanger the future of Halloumi exports.
“We need to sit down and find a way to register Halloumi as a PDO with the European Commission in a way which will be to the benefit of everyone and the country. If we don’t pull together, we risk losing everything we have built over the past decades,” Petrou said.
The sticking point of the PDO file is that currently, producers make halloumi with a ratio of 80%-20% of cow’s to goat or sheep’s milk, while the description of the file says that halloumi should be produced with a minimum of 51% goat or sheep’s milk as of 2024.
An issue which puts pressure on dairy producers as goat and sheep milk is already scarce.
Petrou suggested that one way out of the Halloumi maze is for the rubbery cheese to be registered as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) not a PDO.
The difference between the two is that qualities and properties of PDO products are exclusively determined by the geographical environment, while the main factor for PGI products is a certain quality of feature that is attributable to its geographical origin.
The Ministry of Commerce in an announcement said it is currently handling 79 cases involving illegal use of the Halloumi trademark and has successfully dealt with another 64, but acknowledged it mishandled the UK case.
“Within this framework, the competent Service did not respond in time to the United Kingdom trademark case,