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article imageCyprus opposition cheesed off over halloumi trademark fiasco

By AFP     Dec 10, 2018 in World

Cyprus on Monday dismissed opposition calls to sack its commerce minister after a government blunder saw it lose the trademark rights to its famous white cheese halloumi in Britain.

The UK is the biggest market for the popular squeaky cheese, absorbing 40 percent of halloumi exports generating around 80 million euros ($91 million) a year. Cyprus expects to yield 300 million euros in exports from halloumi by 2023.

The government has admitted it was culpable in losing the British legal battle, but rejected demands to fire Commerce Minister George Lakkotrypis, who also holds the important energy portfolio.

"For the president, it is not a question of trust in the minister, but there is an issue of serious responsibility within the ministry, and there is an investigation to attribute where those responsibilities lie," Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told Alpha TV.

"Of course, the government assumes its political responsibility and will correct everything that has happened," he added.

Opposition parties such as centre-right DIKO say blaming the gaff on a few civil servants in the commerce ministry is not good enough.

"The bottom line is that what happened with halloumi is a monument to incompetence in managing a matter of significance for the Cypriot economy, " said DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos.

"It is a product that generates millions in revenue for the Cypriot economy and the halloumi trademark is one of the most important, if not the most important trademark of the Republic of Cyprus," he added.

Communist party AKEL has also called for the minister's resignation after the government itself described the halloumi fiasco as "suicide".

Cyprus lost the trademark in Britain on November 28 due to the commerce ministry's failure to respond on time to applications filed by a British company, John & Pascalis Ltd, to invalidate or revoke the trademark.

A UK court ruled in favour of the company because the Cyprus government took more than a reasonable length of time to present its case.

According to the high court judgment: "The ministry's internal procedures were so disorganised that the letter enclosing the application was passed from official to official after receipt on 9 February 2018, but no action was taken."

An internal probe was launched to see who was responsible while the matter will be discussed in parliament. Meanwhile, Cyprus has already reapplied to register halloumi in Britain.

"This development, although not visible now, may endanger our future halloumi exports to the UK," the president of the Cyprus Dairy Producers' Association, George Petrou, told the Financial Mirror newspaper.

"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," he added.

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