The commerce ministry said on Wednesday it has launched a probe into the reasons why one of its departments had delayed defending a legal suit in the UK, which resulted in a private company registering halloumi as a trademark in that country
In a statement issued on Wednesday, after daily Politis reported that the company, John and Pascalis Ltd, had succeeded in registering halloumi in the UK, the ministry said it was looking into the reasons why the responsible service had failed to respond in a timely manner.
A British court ruling dated November 28 and seen by the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday reveals that the court case was lost due to the inaction of the department, which failed to send the necessary documents to the UK in time for them to be examined by the court.
If they had done so, they could have prevented the approval of the application.
The ministry on Wednesday said it was currently handling 79 similar cases in Cyprus and overseas after already having handled 64 others.
The statement said the probe was almost complete after which its findings will be handed over to the attorney-general.
It added that it was looking into the possibility of filing an appeal against the UK court decision.
But the ministry said 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 word mark to be applied in the UK after Brexit, the ministry said.
Speaking to Politis, head of the commerce department at the ministry Nelly Koulia said the loss of the brand is certainly a negative development, but it is not expected that exports will be significantly affected.
“About 100 cases involving the illicit exploitation of the trade mark are being handled by our legal advisers at this time,” she reportedly said. “There is a great fight to protect halloumi. Of course, the fact that we have lost the brand is a negative development, but that does not change the fact that no one can produce halloumi outside Cyprus and without respecting the standards.”
She stressed that no producer can make the cheese without having obtained permission from the ministry.
With the community trademark name the ministry has the right to take legal action.
“From the moment this particular private company, which won the brand, sells a product using the halloumi name, the ministry of commerce will chase it with all the legal weapons it has.”
Peter Joannides, a director of John & Pascalis Limited in the UK, said on Wednesday the company simply wanted to maintain the best possible trademark.
“We want to help the industry and make sure our customers are not misled,” Joannides said.
But the Cyprus cheese association sees the move by the company as an attempt to hurt the application of Cyprus to establish halloumi as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product which is pending with the EU Commission.
Head of the association Giorgos Petrou expressed his disappointment at “the mistakes which were made” which weakened Cyprus’ position.
Political parties were equally scathing.
Edek said the case was lost because of “the criminal negligence shown by the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus”.
The Solidarity movement called it “another black page in the history of Cypriot halloumi” and remarked the ministry of commerce had failed to protect Cyprus’ national product, adding this disastrous bureaucracy in the public services should not go unpunished.
“The position of the ministry of commerce cannot really convince us. What they do is make us even angrier about the bad handling and obstructiveness,” the Greens said.