By Evie Andreou
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Friday welcomed the agreement to end the long-standing halloumi/hellim dispute, reached on Thursday with President Nicos Anastasiades in the presence of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Speaking after his meeting with British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, in the north, Akinci said the inspections on the production process would be carried out by an independent international body.
Akinci said that in other EU countries such product controls are carried out agriculture ministers, “but in our case because the minister of agriculture of the Greek Cypriots side has no power or influence in the north, the inspections would have to be done by the international audit company Bureau Veritas which will exercise control on both sides”.
“This company will be in direct contact with the Turkish Cypriot producers, prepare reports and send them to the EU,” he said. Turkish Cypriots can then export the hellim to international markets, he added. “Our hellim is of a good quality but if after inspections there are deficiencies we should take the necessary steps to protect the quality and pass the controls.”
“However I hope that with a [Cyprus] solution we will be able to remove all these problems,” Akinci added.
The appointment of an independent body to inspect halloumi production and secure the trade name worldwide, could also pave the way for joint exports of the island’s traditional semi-soft white cheese from Cyprus and block dairy producers in other countries from making and selling the centuries-old cheese, known in Turkish as ‘hellim’.
The international certification body Bureau Veritas will be tasked with inspecting halloumi/hellim production throughout the island and action will also be taken to facilitate Turkish Cypriot producers to export hellim via the government-controlled areas, it was announced by the European Commission on Friday.
This was the temporary agreement reached under the auspices Juncker when he held talks with the leaders of the two sides.
“The [temporary] agreement is to be implemented pending the reunification of Cyprus”, the announcement issued in Brussels said. This followed Juncker’s comment that he had resolved with the leaders of the two sides over a working lunch, the long-standing issue of the halloumi/hellim protected designation of origin (PDO) that the two sides could not agree on.
The Commission’s announcement said that Bureau Veritas is appointed “as the body in charge of the control tasks” provided by the EU regulation on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs.
Furthermore, it said the Commission will adopt a proposal to modify the Green Line Regulation, to facilitate trade, “on the same day of the publication in the Official Journal of the formal application to get the registration of halloumi/hellim as a PDO,” the announcement said.
After a long dispute between Greek Cypriot dairy producers over the ratio of milk content – the proportion of goat and sheep milk in halloumi was set at over 50 per cent – Cyprus applied to the EU for a PDO for halloumi last year.
“The issue is in the hands of Juncker now,” Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said following the commission’s announcement.
He added that a mechanism must be in place that will conduct controls throughout the island and will answer to the agriculture ministry and the EU Agriculture Commissioner.
“As you very well know, [the] halloumi [file] is at an advanced stage and what is left is the publication of the file in the Official Journal of the EU,” Kouyialis said.
He added that Juncker will forward the file to the College of Commissioners so that it proceeds to publication and that he hoped that the two issues – production inspection and trade – will be dealt with so that the file is published soon.
As regards to amending Green Line Regulations, he said that the process will be on a political level, and it is being dealt with by the Foreign ministry and Juncker’s office.
The submission of the file last year had upset Turkish Cypriots who felt they had been excluded from the process.
The Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Industry (KIBSO), a non-governmental organisation which represents halloumi producers in the north, had asked for the agriculture ministry’s cooperation to inspect halloumi production in the north on the ministry’s behalf, until a final Cyprus solution. Kouyialis had said that controls would be carried out by international organisations and they need not worry.
KIBSO had argued that hellim makes up 25 per cent of the north’s exports and there were fears that this would be affected if it was registered as a PDO, without an input from the north. They said they had also filed five cases at the Supreme Court last year challenging Cyprus’ application to the EU to register halloumi as a PDO.