Gammarth, Tunisia

European Members of Parliament have endorsed a plan to help the Tunisian econ­omy in the wake of last year’s ter­ror­ists attacks by allow­ing 70,000 tons of duty-free olive oil imports.

Since the pro­posal was first announced last September, there has been wide­spread crit­i­cism amongst other EU pro­ducer coun­tries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Many in the sec­tor believe the mea­sures will lead to an imbal­ance and give Tunisia and unfair advan­tage.

The EU stands along­side Tunisians and that we intend to exer­cise sol­i­dar­ity in a tan­gi­ble way- Marielle de Sarnez

Nonetheless, MEPs from the European Parliament trade com­mit­tee voted ear­lier this week to rub­ber stamp the emer­gency mea­sures which were backed by 31 votes to seven, with one absten­tion.

Tunisian tourism has been severely dam­aged since a ter­ror­ist inci­dent in June 2015 when 38 European tourists were gunned down at a beach resort in Sousse and another 39 injured. The num­ber of British and other north­ern European hol­i­day­mak­ers have plum­meted since Islamic State claimed respon­si­bil­ity for the mas­sacre.

The EU said the emer­gency mea­sures are a “show of sol­i­dar­ity” towards Tunisia dur­ing dif­fi­cult times.

“At a time when Tunisia is fac­ing very seri­ous prob­lems, our vote gives the right sig­nal; that the EU stands along­side Tunisians and that we intend to exer­cise sol­i­dar­ity in a tan­gi­ble way,” said rap­por­teur Marielle de Sarnez.

Acknowledging the con­cerns from other nations, the duty-free allowance can be reviewed and changed, but only after one year.

“I know that for col­leagues from some coun­tries, the ques­tion of olive oil is a sen­si­tive one.

“I want to reas­sure them that the amend­ment we adopted pro­vides that, if after a year we real­ize that there is indeed a prob­lem, the Commission may then take steps to rec­tify the imbal­ance,” she added.

The next step will be for the emer­gency mea­sures to go before full European Parliament and if they go through, Tunisia will be allowed a two-year, duty-free quota of 35,000 tons per year.

The olive oil sec­tor indi­rectly employs more than one mil­lion peo­ple in Tunisia account­ing for one-fifth of jobs in the agri­cul­tural indus­try. Olive oil is also Tunisia’s main agri­cul­tural export.


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