THE SAGA of the registration of halloumi as a protected designation of origin (PDO) is set to run and run even though the agriculture ministry finally filed an application to the European Commission earlier this month. Not everyone is happy with the contents of the application, which stipulates the quantities of the different types of milk that had to be used, with interest groups threatening to appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court.
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis does not only have the legal threats of Greek Cypriot cow farmers and cheese manufacturers to deal with, he now has to contend with the objections being voiced by the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The chamber held a news conference last week at which its chairman claimed that if the Turkish Cypriots did not participate in the registration procedure it would lead to their financial ruin.
Hellim, as it is called by Turkish Cypriots, makes up 25 per cent of the north’s exports and there were fears that these would be affected if it was registered as a PDO, without an input from the north. The chamber, however, seems more concerned about having the authority to carry out inspections of halloumi production in the north, something Kouyialis does not seem prepared to accept. He assured Turkish Cypriots that they had nothing to worry about as the inspections would be carried out by independent organisations.
It was inevitable that the halloumi saga would also be given a Cyprus problem twist. The chamber of commerce warned that the dispute would cause major damage to the peace negotiations as well as weaken Turkish Cypriot confidence in EU institutions. Irrespective of these warnings, Kouyialis should have engaged in some form dialogue with the chamber, as there was no question of recognition of the north, and halloumi/hellim is after all the national cheese of Cyprus, produced by both communities.
Then again, it was bad enough trying to satisfy Greek Cypriot interest groups, in which regard the minister has failed. If he had consulted with the Turkish Cypriots, he would have been accused of unpatriotic behaviour as well as everything else. Kouyialis is in a no-win situation, even though he should be commended for taking a decision and submitting an application, something his predecessors had avoided because of the pressure of interest groups. He even proposed a 10-year transition period before it became an imperative for a minimum 50 per cent sheep and goat milk content.
But it would seem that cow farmers want to re-invent the milk contents of halloumi permanently, because this suits their financial interests. But the minister is right in refusing to give in to them. We cannot change the ingredients of our traditional cheese just because this suits a few dairy producers.